For Pam Almeida and the rest of the staff of Spokane Valley Meals on Wheels, it’s a case of adding another chapter to an already nourishing story.
In September, the organization was awarded a contract held for nearly 30 years by the Senior Nutrition program of the Spokane Regional Health District, outdistancing SRHD in a competitive bid that takes place every four years. The news means Valley Meals on Wheels will receive federal funds through Aging and Long Term Care of Eastern Washington to provide food to seniors throughout Spokane County. Currently, the agency provides warm meals to 200 homebound and disabled residents each month as well as another 150 at four congregate lunch sites.
“This will help us feed more people,” said Almeida, who has served as Meals on Wheels executive director since
The money through ALTCEW will represent some 50 percent of the agency’s overall budget, Almeida said. Client donations account for 20 percent while funds from the Department of Agriculture’s Nutrition Services program, community contributions and grants comprise the remainder of the budget.
Those who receive meals from the program are encouraged, not required, to donate $2 per meal. Many clients are on a fixed income and give whatever money they can. Almeida said the number of meal recipients who provide reimbursement has dropped to 32 percent. For 40 percent of those who access the program, the delivery from Meals on Wheels represents their only meal of the day.
The ALTCEW contract will translate into Valley Meals on Wheels becoming the lead agency for senior nutrition across the county, coordinating a dozen meal sites from Deer Park to the South Hill. The agency will also subcontract with meal delivery programs in the city of Spokane (Mid-City Concerns); Cheney and North Spokane County. A fourth mobile service – serving Latah, Fairfield, Rockford and other areas in south Spokane County – is set to begin Jan. 2.
Almeida said the transition, which becomes official in January, will likely mean hiring at least two more people to work in the kitchen as well as a part-time bookkeeper, part-time development director and a person to coordinate the congregate meal sites.
“We should have 23 staffmembers by the time we finish hiring,” Almeida said. “It’s going to be a lot different.”
The shift marks the latest turn in a winding, and often unpredictable, budgetary road for Meals on Wheels. In November 2008, Almeida was able to maintain a five-day-a-week schedule at the quartet of meal sites despite a $30,000 shortfall in Senior Nutrition funds. That same year, Meals on
Wheels began working to establish its own kitchen – now known as Senior Meals of Greater Spokane County – after Aramark, a commercial food supply company that had been providing meals to the agency since 2004, announced it would not renew its contract.
This May, Meals on Wheels launched a catering service called “Silver Café” which has generated food for a variety of functions, including events hosted by the Spokane Valley Senior Center and Second Harvest of the Inland Northwest.
Almeida noted thta Meals on Wheels has worked with ALTCEW on various projects over the years, including fundraising efforts through the Senior Assistance Fund of Eastern Washington. Nick Beamer, director of ALTCEW, said the new collaboration will represent a positive benefit to senior nutrition in Spokane County.
“I think the collaboration will create a closer connection to the food banks,” Beamer said. “In terms of fundraising, (Meals on Wheels) will be able to do that easier because they’re not a government agency,” Beamer said.
ALTCEW will be dealing with decreases in the state’s Senior Citizens Service Act next year. The 30-percent reduction in the funding will be balanced out across the agency’s programs, resulting in 6 to 12 percent cuts, depending on the department.
ALTCEW conducted a special study on nutrition leading up to the bid between SHRD and Meals on Wheels this fall. The project – consisting of feedback from focus groups and research – provided a foundation for ALTCEW’s updated standards on what Beamer described as “issues related to nutrition in our community.”