JOHNSTOWN - Local recipients of the Meals for Seniors of Fulton County had two things to say in response to threatened cuts: The program is great and it should continue.
The Fulton County Office for the Aging reported last month it may have to reduce the number of meals it provides area seniors for the remainder of the year due to rising food costs.
OFA Director Andrea Fettinger received support from the Board of Supervisor's Social Services Committee in late June to amend the rate per meal contained in the county's $457,760 food service contract for 2008 with Kingsboro Catering/ Lexington Center.
The Leader-Herald/Richard Nilsen
Bruce Yates has lunch with his son Brian Yates at Roger’s Place in Caroga Lake. Bruce Yates said the senior meal program was “great” and his son Brian said it is a needed safety net for many people like his father.
That contractor prepares daily meals for both the OFA's Senior Congregate Dining and Home Delivered Meals programs.
Bruce Yates of Caroga Lake receives home delivery of meals and was having lunch with his son Brian Yates at Roger's Place in the town on Monday. Brian Yates said the meals were more than just food for the elderly.
"It's a security blanket that helps people feel independent," Yates said. "Some people who get the meals are incapable of cooking for themselves. Others are restricted in their movements. It's a great help."
His father nodded in agreement.
"It's a great program," Bruce Yates said. "I don't know what I'd do without it."
"We'd all be sad to see a loss in the program," Brian Yates said.
"Those who deliver the meals are angels. They help open the meals for the people, make sure they have silver ware - I can't say enough about the program."
"They come by every day like clockwork," Bruce Yates said. "They are very thoughtful."
Lin Seiler was helping with the meal program at the Senior Citizens Service Center of Gloversville and Fulton County Tuesday. She said she'd been working with Senior Meals the past 17 years.
"Besides the meal program here at the center, I deliver 20 meals to homebound people in Mayfield," Seiler said. "It's a good program. We are the only people some people may see in a day."
Seiler said the safety factor was a definite component of the program.
"We call it in if someone isn't home when they should be so they can be checked on," she said. "Some delivery people even bring in [the seniors] mail. And of course lots of hugs come with the meals."
The "hugs" factor brought a smile to Bob Calder who was receiving his lunch at the center Tuesday in Gloversville.
"It's a good thing," he said. "I've been in the program three months. They treat you right."
Center Director Catherine Mueller said Calder is one of those who is transported by OFA to the center for his meal and brought back home again in the afternoon. She said the socialization factor for the meal program was one of the most important aspects.
"This is their hub for socialization," Mueller said. "Getting out for a meal is good both for their physical health and their mental health.
Otherwise they are home alone and may get depressed. Then what happens next?"
Mueller said many in the program have no close family in the area.
"Their children have moved on and they don't have care givers to check up on them," she said. "Senior meals helps to see that their nutritional needs are met."
Mueller said the program provides good food and good portions.
But I hate to think that's their only source of food," she said.
Waiting for the meal at the center were Bernard Henderson, Richard Frasier and Philomena Carvano. They were playing cards while waiting for lunch to be served.
"Home delivery [of meals] really helps," Henderson said.
"I want to see the program continue every day," she said.
Frasier said that due to disability he had been on the meal program for some time.
"The meals are great," Frasier said. "It would be awful if they had to cut back on the program. The people who cook and deliver the meals are great. They are very nice and do a great job."
Mueller said she was doing everything she could to cut costs at the senior center.
"Wal-Mart return center keeps us in furniture and paper goods," she said. "I haven't had to buy toilet paper for three years," she said with a laugh.
Mueller said like other non-profit groups the center was having a hard time with bills and so she understood the rising cost of meals for the senior meal program.
"The economy has hit everyone hard," she said. "Donors are down and people who drive to visit the center are down because of gas prices."
In spite of difficulties, Mueller said participation in the meal program has been steady.
"Our programs and classes here are doing well," she said. "But I have concerns for what a reduction in the meal program will do for those most in need."
Mueller said OFA assesses the need of individuals to make sure those in most need get necessary services.
"[OFA] know who their clients are and what needs they have," Mueller said.
Fettinger said the programs serve about 500 meals a day and about 106,000 meals annually on more than 20 routes. But the economy, she said, has hit Kingsboro Catering/Lexington Center negatively.
"I've been in conversation with Lexington, and they're having a difficult time meeting their cost," Fettinger said.
Fettinger said the rate-per-meal change would result in the program distributing about 3,000 less meals between now and the end of the year, an approximate 6 percent decrease.
The Meals for Seniors program offers services including congregate dining at local sites, home-delivered meals, nutrition counseling, socialization and a volunteer program to people older than 60 and their spouses.
Congregate dining sites are located in Broadalbin, Caroga Lake, Gloversville, Johnstown, Mayfield, Perth and Vail Mills.
Home-delivered meals are provided to homebound people who, based on an assessment, are determined to be unable to meet their daily nutritional needs.
Home-delivered meals provide one hot noon meal and frozen weekend or supper meals.
Fettinger said recent meetings with Lexington Center management resulted in the center's request to amend the contract due to "severe increases" in gasoline, food costs that include delivery of food, and personnel.
She said the contract rate is $4.31 per meal, and the request is to increase the rate to the contractor to $4.69 per meal from July to December. She said the request is to not hike the amount of the total contract, but just increase the unit cost.
"We'll not be serving as many people," Fettinger said. "We would have to reduce down by maybe 3,000 meals [for the six-month period]," she said.
John Quinn of Gloversville responded to the announced cutbacks in the meal program with sadness. He works with the meals program and has seen first-hand how it helps.
"All of us who drive regularly to deliver these meals have had to call 911 on many occasions to help people who had fallen, were unconscious or worse," he said. "For many of these seniors, this is their only meal or outside contact."
Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com. Michael Anich contributed to this story.