Jackson County commissioners this week approved an extra $29,000 to keep the services operating through June, which marks the end of the fiscal year.
Even with the extra money, however, the program can’t handle all the seniors on its waiting list.
Jackson Meals on Wheels currently delivers nutritious meals to 80 housebound seniors who don’t have the ability to prepare their own meals. But there are 43 seniors on a waiting list.
Extra money provided by the county will allow Meals on Wheels to serve an additional 30 people on the waiting list. To serve all 43 on the waiting list, the agency would also need more volunteers — not just more money, according to Karen Davis, head of nutrition services for the Jackson County Department on Aging. There are currently 12 Meals on Wheels routes in the county.
Meals on Wheels is a critical service to help keep housebound seniors with chronic health issues from ending up in nursing homes, Davis said. A second free meal service offers daily sit down meals to seniors, known as congregate meals.
The number of seniors taking advantage of the free daily meals in Jackson County has increased around 35 percent during the past 18 months.
The program only has grant funding to serve 50 daily meals, but has been serving 67 meals a day on average.
Some seniors need the meals more than others. To stretch the money further and reach those most in need, new eligibility criteria will be put in place based on age, income level, health issues and someone’s ability to prepare nutritious meals if left to their own devices.
The agency attempted to get those who could afford it to pay $5 for the meals. But only a couple of participants stepped up to pay voluntarily, according to Davis.
Under the new criteria policy, those who don’t meet income levels would be required to pay if they want to keep eating.