By SHELLY WILKISON
Higher food prices combined with cuts in funding from government agencies and a drop in charitable giving has forced Meals on Wheels to limit the number of clients it can serve in the Liberty Hill and Bertram areas.
“For the first time, we’ve had to initiate a waiting list for Liberty Hill seniors,” said Paula Goodson, director of Senior Nutrition/Meals on Wheels for Williamson-Burnet County Opportunities (WBCO). “Without donations, it may be a while before Meals on Wheels can add on any additional seniors who are homebound and in need of assistance.”
Ms. Goodson stressed that the plea for help is urgent.
“The cost of food has increased as has the need,” she said. “We have never served so many people and our funding is flat. There’s been no increase.”
In 2012, the agency served more than 160,000 hot, healthy meals to homebound senior citizens in Williamson and Burnet counties. In 2013, the number of people requesting assistance has increased and Ms. Goodson says it’s “horrible to tell them they will be placed on a waiting list.”
In Liberty Hill, nine residents receive meals five days a week, and in Bertram, 7 residents are served.
“Times are hard for everyone right now, but those hurting the most are those who have nothing,” she said.
Meals on Wheels clients are typically low-income seniors who are homebound and rely on the meals as their primary source of nutrition. Many have no income, no family in the area, and no other source for food.
She said the number of Liberty Hill residents served by the program has increased in recent years. In fact, Ms. Goodson said she made the decision this week to bypass the waiting list and add a new client from Liberty Hill because the need was especially urgent.
While the agency has some volunteers in the area willing to deliver meals, more are needed, she said.
WBCO prepares meals five days per week from its kitchens in Leander and Burnet, and volunteers deliver them in their communities. In many cases, the Meals on Wheels volunteer is the only person the client interacts with on a regular basis.
Ms. Goodson said the shortage of funding for the program is not a situation unique to Williamson and Burnet counties. Throughout the state, other cities are instituting waiting lists that range from one to two months.
She said funding from federal, state, county and city governments has decreased at a time when more people need help and the cost of food, gas, utilities and even food trays have increased.
Ms. Goodson said each meal costs $5.50. Of that, $1.81 is the cost of the raw food. Costs are added as the meal is cooked and delivered by volunteers, who must first be trained.
WBCO receives funds from the Texas Department of Agriculture, the federal Department of Aging and Disability Services, Williamson and Burnet counties, and some cities. Pedernales Electric Cooperative also makes an annual contribution.
The City of Liberty Hill and the City of Bertram do not contribute to the program, she said, adding that financial donations from businesses and individuals in both communities are rare.
WBCO also benefits from various fundraising events held during the year in cities larger than Liberty Hill and Bertram.
WBCO is a private, non-profit corporation governed by elected officials, community leaders and target area representatives. Formed in 1966, it has administered a number of social service and economic opportunity programs benefitting low and moderate income persons. In addition to Meals on Wheels, the agency administers Head Start, Emergency Assistance and Affordable Housing programs.
To find out how to help the local Meals on Wheels program, call (512) 763-1400 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Individuals wishing to help by making a donation to Meals on Wheels may send checks by mail to WBCO, Meals on Wheels, 604 High Tech Drive, Georgetown, TX 78626, or go online to make a contribution, www.wbco.net.