Meals on Wheels waiting list growing as funding reduced
By R. Sirvell Carter
For the Enquirer
With a growing number of people seeking its services and funding being cut, Meals on Wheels & More is looking for donations and volunteers.
“The demand for our services has increased tremendously,” food service manager Shontez Wynn said. “Last year I’m not sure if we had anyone on hold, and if we did that number never got over five waiting to be added to the program.
“At this current time, we have about 40 clients waiting to be added to the program. Some of the clients have been waiting since September of 2023 to be notified when they will start receiving meals from Meals On Wheels & More.”
Wynn said the organization needs financial support from the community and volunteers who can take one to two hours each week to deliver food.
“If the volunteer has a group of four that can alternate weeks with them then they will only be volunteering once a month. I will always work with anyone that can volunteer every other week,” she said.
Since 1972, Meals On Wheels & More has served residents of Morgan County within the Decatur and Hartselle city limits. Staffed largely by volunteers, the program, operated by Community Action Partnership of North Alabama, delivers meals to disabled, elderly and homebound residents.
The Decatur Daily annually accepts financial contributions for the program throughout February and publishes the names of contributors who want to be recognized. This year’s goal is $40,000.
“Last year our final amount raised was $26,340, which was amazing,” Cindy Anderson, director of community services for CAPNA, said of the Decatur Daily’s drive. “Nonprofits including (Meals on Wheels) will experience a 40% decrease in funds we receive from United Way which makes this February focus even more important.”
The United Way contribution will be $69,420 this year, down from $155,700 in 2023. That cut has had a dramatic impact on the program, Anderson said.
In October, Meals on Wheels was delivering 338 meals per day. Because of the cut in funding, the program can now serve only 300 per day, Anderson said.
“We have 49 individuals on our wait list at this time,” Anderson said Wednesday. “Those on the wait list cannot be added until we have available slots open up — which occurs when a recipient no longer needs meals; they may move in with family or into an assisted living facility or many times they pass away.”
There is no cost to recipients for the Meals On Wheels & More services, as the costs are covered through the United Way funding as well as partnerships with local businesses, churches, other local organizations and private donations.
Benefits for recipients, according to Wynn, include enabling them to remain independent and in their own home, providing regular contact and some social interaction with others, reducing food costs to the recipient and their family, and providing temporary assistance during times of transition when dealing with traumatic life-changing events such as illness, accidents or surgeries.
Thursday deliveries were reinstated in July, which marked the first time for five-day food service to clients since 2020. After the pandemic reduced delivery to once a week that year, Meals on Wheels increased to Monday and Wednesday deliveries in July 2021. The program moved from three deliveries per week to four in March when it resumed Tuesday service.
“(Thursdays have) been a challenge for us because so many volunteers backed out on me or never showed up, which makes it difficult to cook food then you don’t have any one to deliver it, which would result in waste,” Wynn said.
“Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday the clients receive a hot cooked meal,” Wynn added. “On Thursdays they receive a bag of nonperishable food items. As we all know food is rather expensive to have to throw away, so the decision not to cook on Thursday’s right now is due to some unstable volunteer/staffing issues.”
Currently there are 57 weekly volunteers delivering to 300 clients. Due to the vulnerability of Meals on Wheels recipients, volunteers must fill out an application form and undergo a background check.
“Meals On Wheels & More is more than just a meal. We are big on our clients’ well-being and safety. We help the clients get assistance through other programs that we may not offer or they may not be aware of,” Wynn said.
Wynn is assisted by five part-time staff members in addition to one employee contracted through NARCOG and one volunteer at the kitchen, located at 1510 Fourth Ave. S.E. in Decatur.
“I love what I do so I go the extra mile to make sure these clients have what they need on a weekly basis,” Wynn said. “One day this could very well be me needing community support to make sure I’m safe and receiving nutritional food to live a great quality life when I’m no longer capable of doing those things for myself.”
Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Wynn at 256-351-6850, 256-565-3386 or firstname.lastname@example.org.