Hot meals converting to frozen for local homebound seniors

Douglas County's Meals on Wheels program could be delivering frozen rather than hot meals to homebound seniors by September, due primarily to escalating demand and limited kitchen and staff.

The change has been delayed two months, to allow input from seniors and others.

"The kitchen just can't handle it anymore," said Paul Lockwood, chairman of the Senior Services Advisory Council. "It's not a cut in funding. We've had an increase in demand and our budget won't keep up with the demand."

Increased gas prices, insurance costs and rising maintenance costs associated with an aging vehicle fleet have made it impossible to continue with the present level of service, according to Warren Bottino, supervisor of senior services.

The organization, which delivers hot meals Monday through Friday and frozen meals for the weekend, is set up to accommodate 65 homebound clients. Right now, that number is consistently over 100, Bottino said.

"And we only have one guy delivering," he said.

Converting hot meals to frozen will mean delivery will be cut to one or two days a week, Bottino said.

"Every time a senior asked, Douglas County Senior Services tried to fit them in," said Senior Advisory Board member Terry Faff. "We've reached a point where we just can't do it anymore."

Ron Schnur has been delivering Meals on Wheels for four years and in that time, his clientele has jumped from 40 to 100 seniors. Families don't pay much attention of some of these seniors and they look forward to seeing him every day, he said.

"To tell you the truth, I'm not looking forward to the change. I'm pretty close to every one of them and I think the change will devastate many of them," he said. "It hurts."

The meal delivery is like a welfare check. If a homebound senior doesn't answer the door, Schnur contacts the Senior Center so they can call later, to make sure everything's OK, he said.

The number of homebound clients served rose 23.6 percent this year and individually delivered meals far exceeded the projected 29,000 for a total of 35,000 meals, representing close to a 21 percent increase, according to figures from senior services.

That figure includes meals delivered in outlying areas, from Topaz Ranch Estates to Indian Hills.

Outlying areas of Douglas County are now served with bi-weekly frozen meal deliveries and that service will not be affected by the change, according to Bottino.

For more information, contact Senior Services at 783-6455.

Susie Vasquez can be reached at svasquez@recordcourier.com or 782-5121, ext. 211.

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