A polarizing perfect storm of need and funding hit Senior Meals Program Inc. this year.
The senior-citizen-serving nonprofit at 2900 Wilson Ave. SW, Grandville, was forced to cut back last week on its Senior Meals on Wheels program due to the double-barrel impacts of needing to increase its efforts to serve an ominous “silver tsunami” of retiring baby boomers, while at the same time finding stable funding during shaky economic conditions and looming sequester cuts.
The program normally delivers two meals a day between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. to about 1,200 active clients, and will end up serving about 2,000 live-in seniors in the course of a year, said Brewster Hamm, Senior Meals interim president and CEO.
But now, Senior Meals is cutting back, and about 250 clients will be served only one daily meal, an entrée dinner. The 250 clients, about 12 percent of all seniors the program serves in a year, were notified weeks before hand and specifically selected by Senior Meals assessment teams as being seniors who would be stable enough to provide for themselves or who have family who could provide for them, he said.
The cut was unpleasant, Hamm said, but inevitable because the number and rate of senior citizens retiring and needing meals is becoming overwhelming for the volunteer program, which already drives meals to every corner of Kent County, including Greenville.
“For our program, we’ve been having a growth of 100 people a month. Year to date, we’re like 20 percent ahead of our meals compared to last year,” he said.
“We figured that the cuts we’ve done add up to about 5,000 meals a month, and that costs $15,000 a month. If we had a funder that wanted to put us back to square one, $15,000 a month would put the 250 people back on track.”
Senior Meals’ funding comes from both federal and state governments, Kent County millage and United Way, but funding has remained flat or dipped in the past year because of economic conditions, said Lisa Wideman, Senior Meals director of operations. The cut was more the result of the increasing senior citizen population, she said, but financial matters played a part, too.
Senior Meals has reached out to Parish Consulting to help in finding ways to increase funding, she said, but even if local funding increases, government aid cuts could lead to more problems.
“We are not fully safe. Many of our sister organizations have been cut because of the sequester. So far, we’re OK, but it’s possible we’ll get hit, as well,” she said.
“The senior millage has been going down because of the economic conditions, and we get about 20 to 25 percent from that. I think we saw around a $24,000 hit on senior millage funding (in the past year). There’s less money available.”
Wideman worries future cuts could be hard on families, and that some seniors might need to go to nursing homes, which would place more financial burdens on seniors and their families. Hamm echoed her thoughts, adding that, although it’s hard to speculate how the increasing number of senior citizens will impact the local economy, he is concerned there could be problems.
“If we had to do more severe cuts, that would certainly have a negative business impact on nursing homes for those people. All those people would likely have to go to nursing homes. We’re not there yet and, hopefully, that will not be the case,” Hamm said.
“From the business case, it’s huge when you consider keeping people in their homes for X number of years versus having to go through the expense of a nursing home.”