Meals on Wheels program struggles to meet demand

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The Chronicle ran a troubling story last week on the difficulties that Houston’s Meals On Wheels is facing:

Meals on Wheels

Now, almost 4,000 elderly, homebound Houston-area residents receive free meals through Meals on Wheels programs sponsored by Interfaith Ministries, the YWCA of Houston and the Jewish Community Center. Free meals are also served at various sites across the city.

The three agencies’ waiting lists have steadily increased in the past few months, and because Interfaith Ministries delivers more meals (3,000) than the other agencies, its waiting list has seen the most growth. In the past six months, 50 residents have signed up each month, and 1,003 residents are waiting for service. The agency said increased awareness of the program and more referrals from health care providers are driving the surge in demand.

The agency must raise more than $1 million to cover costs and accommodate the additional 1,000 clients, said David Roberts, director of Interfaith’s senior nutrition services.

In south Houston’s Sunnyside neighborhood, about 200 people are on the YWCA’s waiting list. The agency serves 610 elderly residents.

“Times are bad,” said Rhonda Thornton, director of senior services.

In southwest Houston, the Jewish Community Center’s 75 volunteers deliver free meals to 330 residents during the week, said Jerry Wische, the center’s director. About 50 people are awaiting the service, he said.

Those on waiting lists sometimes are added to service rolls when a client dies, moves away or no longer needs service. Others are added when a new route opens up. Still, agency leaders said they are mindful of how long elderly residents are on the lists.

Interfaith Ministries’ goal of serving all of those on its waiting list poses real financial obstacles.

“Once you ratchet up to feed another 1,000 people, you’re going to have to feed those people. It’s not a one time deal,” the Jewish Community Center’s Wische said. “It becomes a base increase.”

The Meals on Wheels agencies receive funding from the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, United Way, area churches, businesses and private donations.

In the past few years, Harris County Area Agency on Aging figures show slight decreases in funding for meal-delivery agencies. Interfaith Ministries receives about $2.5 million each year from the agency on aging, covering about 60 percent of its $3.9 million annual budget, Roberts said.

Each meal costs $5, and the annual cost per client is $1,200.

Strangely, the Chronicle (good corporate citizen that it is *ahem*) omitted any information on how generous Houstonians might donate to the Meal on Wheels program. Here is the Meals on Wheels donation page for Interfaith Ministries.

UPDATE: KTRK-13 reports that Mayor White is trying to raise awareness of the program. Their reporting also contains the link provided above.

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