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Program needs community donations to subsidize funding as need is more urgent

PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY MELODY KENDALL
 - Home delivery driver for Meals on Wheels, Hal Bitterman, is ready to make his deliveries on his route.

Meals on Wheels in Prineville is busier than ever and provides as many as 400 meals to seniors every week.

The program is the only federally supported program that is designed to meet the nutritional and social needs of seniors. With funding from the Older Americans Act, the funding subsidizes only approximately half of the cost of an individual senior meal. A small number of clients can donate toward their meals, which leaves a funding deficit that must be bolstered by local funding sources.

"Our major source of income is from the Neat Repeat, and now with it closed, things are extremely tight," said Melody Kendall, coordinator and bookkeeper for Prineville Senior Center. "We also apply for grants through various sources, which also helps."

According to data from Kendall, 71% of the seniors served in Crook County are over 75 years of age, 59% are female, and 41% are male. They don't have in-home support where someone can shop or cook for them, and the program is not based on income.

Kendall also oversees the Meals on Wheels program in Crook County. She noted that as a recent response to a letter to the editor at the Central Oregonian, the need for drivers for the Meals on Wheels Program resulted in many more people applied. Kendall said she now has 30 drivers who cover a 5-mile radius in Crook County.

"The response to that was unbelievable. People were applying every day," Kendall said.

With the deliveries, there was also a need for facial masks to protect clients and drivers. The organization immediately received donations from Crook County Rodders, Ronda Smith and McDonald's.

"We distributed those to the drivers and to the home delivery clients. I got so many phone calls of thanks for sending those out," she added.

Kendall also mandates that all her drivers wear masks at all times during deliveries. In addition to delivering meals, the drivers also check to make sure the clients are doing well or whether they might need something.

"That's probably the biggest part of it to me," Kendall said. "It's great that they get the meal — that's important, but for some of these people, that is the only person that they ever see. The drivers are so good about it."

She said the drivers look for something that might not seem quite right. She added that their intuition is usually right on. For example, if someone doesn't answer the door, but their car is there, they would call her to follow up.

In addition to drivers, she wanted to put a shout out to Eastside Church and the women from the Meals on Wheels who cook the daily menu for deliveries. She began checking around town to find a kitchen they could temporarily use during the remodel, and Eastside Church graciously offered their kitchen for free.

"They are my personal heroes through all of these changes," Kendall said.

"The ladies in the kitchen have just not missed a step," she said of her three cooks. "They are amazing, and they are working in a kitchen a third the size they were before. They don't have the equipment and supplies like they had before."

They are making the most of the facility they have, and they often have problems obtaining supplies because of shortages from the pandemic. Last week, they couldn't find bread from their regular supplier and had to network to find an alternative.

Kendall said that since the Soroptimist Neat Repeat is temporarily closed, Meals on Wheels is dependent on donations from the community to subsidize the federal funding. She has been amazed by the number of individual donations she receives every day.

"Every single day, when I go to the post office, there are checks." She said most are in the range of $20 to $100.

"Right now, that's what is keeping us going — those checks."

She also received 75 pounds of hamburger from a ranch in Paulina. The 1017 Project from Shilo Church in Powell Butte has committed to a full beef the first part of May.

"Obviously, that is why we are open right now," she said of the generous donations from the community.

She has requests for additional routes as the need grows. This poses a challenge, as the growing needs are sometimes in the busiest routes. It costs the program more than $8 per meal, but subsidies equal about $4 per meal. During March, the program served a record of 1,600 meals.

"I knew that the need was going to increase if this thing progressed," Kendall said of the effects of COVID-19.

"We didn't really put a plea out for asking for money, but it just started pouring in," she said. "Every tiny little bit helps."

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To send a donation or for inquiries:

Soroptimist Senior Center

In care of Melody Kendall

180 NE Belknap St, Prineville, OR 97754

Phone: 541-447-6844


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