Still rolling along

Meals On Wheels facing down budget crunch

CHARLES TOWN – Almost 33 years after its start, Meals On Wheels of Jefferson County continues to provide wholesome, home-cooked meals to those in need, but volunteers with the nonprofit say funding is growing tighter.

[cleeng_content id="684825950" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]With less money coming into the organization from the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle, Meals On Wheels is facing a budget shortfall of $12,000 for the upcoming calendar year, said Roger Dailey, the longtime board president of Meals on Wheels of Jefferson County.0925MEALSb

That’s the bad news.

The good news, Dailey explains, is that as word of the program’s financial challenges gets out, supporters of Meals On Wheels are stepping up with more donations. New fundraisers also are bringing in more money, he said.

“People look at Meals On Wheels as important to our community,” he said. “It’s not something they would want to see disappear. They know a lot of people depend on the help we provide.”

The program has been a fixture in Jefferson County since November of 1980. These days, more than 50 clients – elderly residents as well as those with physical problems that make meal preparation difficult or impossible – depend on Meals On Wheels for a hot meal each weekday.

The Meals On Wheels concept began in the United States in 1955 when a social organizer named Paul Jans partnered with churches to bring meals to the homebound and hungry elderly in Philadelphia. The idea spread and now some 5,000 such local initiatives are in place across the nation.

The Jefferson County program operates with minimal overhead, employing only a part-time cook and two other women who split a part-time administrative job. More than 60 people volunteer regularly as delivery drivers and to pack up meals and handle other duties.

Drivers take meals to clients all over the county, from Shepherdstown to Summit Point to Middleway, Leetown and other far-flung neighborhoods, explains Patsy Morgan-Runkles, who works at Meals On Wheels each Monday through Thursday morning.

But with the economy still struggling, some clients are finding it tougher to pay as much for their meals as they have in the past, Morgan-Runkles said.

Meals On Wheels volunteer Robert “Sparky” Sparkes brings a hot lunch to Alice Rissler at her Kabletown farmhouse. The Prince George's County, Md., native United Way, Meals On Wheels of Jefferson County is adding new fundraisers and seeking donations.

Meals On Wheels volunteer Robert “Sparky” Sparkes brings a hot lunch to Alice Rissler at her Kabletown farmhouse. The Prince George’s County, Md., native has been a driver for the nonprofit for 14 years.  With less funding from the United Way, Meals On Wheels of Jefferson County is
adding new fundraisers and seeking donations.

“We’ve had people say they have to give up getting Meals On Wheels because they’re dealing with higher electric bills and other costs – they just don’t have the money,” she said. “I tell them I understand. I know how hard it gets. I ask what amount they can pay and we go from there.

“We don’t want any of our clients to go hungry.”

At the same time that food costs have risen, Meals On Wheels also is seeing less money come in from the United Way, Morgan-Runkles said.

“The United Way doesn’t have as much coming in,” she said. “That means they have less money to hand out. When people stop giving, it does have an effect on us.”

The United Way of the Eastern Panhandle had used the Thunder Over the Blue Ridge air show to raise money for Meals On Wheels and dozens of other groups doing good works in the community, but the event was halted early in 2011 after a fatal plane crash during the show and then planners scrubbed the event this spring.

Years ago, Meals On Wheels depended on dollars from the United Way for nearly a third of its budget, but Dailey said he was warned by Jan Callen, the now-retired United Way of the Eastern Panhandle’s executive director, to not lean so heavily on any one funding source.

“The United Way now is about 1/10th of our overall figure and we’re grateful that we got that advice and moved away from relying so much on United Way,” Dailey said.

Many churches provide funding for Meals On Wheels every year, he said. Private gifts are another constant, he said.

Dailey says he’s happy to see the organization continuing with its tried-and-true fundraisers and also trying new ways to build up its bank account. “We are always open to anyone’s ideas,” he said. “It’s exciting to see some of these new approaches. You never know what might be a big hit.”

In November, a first-ever gala is being organized to raise money for Meals On Wheels.

Kids will pay $3 and older attendees $10 for the Follow the Yellow Brick Road Gala to be held Nov. 9 at Asbury Center at Asbury United Methodist Church in Charles Town.

With a “Wizard of Oz” theme, the evening will include music from the Jefferson High School Jazz Ensemble and other musicians, a movie, a moon bounce, snacks, door prizes, a silent auction, door prizes and other enticements, according to organizer Jen Watland.

Meals On Wheels also hosts daylong soup and sandwich fundraisers each spring and fall.

Meals On Wheels volunteer Susie Frye moves meals from the oven at Charles Town Presbyterian Church to go into warming bags for distribution to clients.

Meals On Wheels volunteer Susie Frye moves meals from the oven at Charles Town Presbyterian Church to go into warming bags for distribution to clients.

Meals On Wheels also hosts daylong soup and sandwich fundraisers each fall.

The Oct. 5 event happens at the program’s headquarters, inside Charles Town Presbyterian Church on the corner of Mildred and Washington streets.

An indoor yard sale also is planned, and on Oct. 4 the organization will accept donations to be put out for sale.

Earlier this month, a square dance fundraiser organized by Ron and Charlotte Sowers for Meals On Wheels brought a crowd to Wild Goose Farm in Shepherdstown for music from O’Hurley’s General Store String Band, dancing and the chance to chow down at the Independent Fire Co.’s chuck wagon.

“That was a terrific time,” Dailey said. “We’d love to do that again. You get people out and help them have a fun night and at the same time you’re raising money that will go to the community good.”

This year, Dailey also sent letters to members of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce recounting Meals On Wheels’ funding challenges as well as thank-you letters to community members who had donated to Meals On Wheels in the past to let them know how much they’re help is valued.

“We’re getting a good response,” he said. “People wouldn’t want to see Meals On Wheels stop being available. They know many people who have depended on this over the years.

“In our community, it’s another way we show we care about one another.”[/cleeng_content]

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