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Getting involved
For more information:
Aging and In-Home Services of Northeast Indiana
2927 Lake Ave., Fort Wayne
Call 745-1200 extension 241, or fax 422-4916
Food insecure
Indiana ranked 12th in the nation with the “most food insecure” seniors, according to 2011 analysis by the Elders at the Table coalition and the University of Indianapolis Center for Aging & Community.
“These are older individuals who find themselves unsure when they might have their next meal or access to food,” said Connie Benton Wolfe, president and CEO of Aging & In-Home Services of Northeast Indiana.
Wolfe and Wiemann, senior vice president of advancement at the agency, hope that the federal cuts will not fall on the backs of hungry seniors.
“We always try to be efficient,” Wiemann said, “but at some point we will be out of money.”
Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Mike Haberkorn, assistant site manager with Aging and In-Home Services, makes deliveries for Meals on Wheels.

Meals on Wheels in peril with cuts

More than 2,000 people in region got aid last year

Ellen Steinbacher, 58, is disabled and lives in Fort Wayne with her sister, who has mental disabilities.

For several years, she has depended on the nutritional, ready-made meals that are delivered to her home by Meals on Wheels.

“It helps me physically and financially,” said Steinbacher, who has trouble standing for very long.

“I just pop the meal into the microwave and it’s done,” she said.

Steinbacher and others like her – seniors, the disabled and those on a fixed income – rely on Meals on Wheels and other programs that fall under the umbrella of the Aging & In-Home Services of Northeast Indiana, Inc., 2927 Lake Ave.

But federal budget cuts are looming ominously over those programs.

Area agencies on aging may have to cut services, staffing, programs or reduce compensation or benefits as a result of the federal sequester, which took effect March 1. Federal money is funneled through the Older American Act, and those funds and state funding are the primary sources of income for the program.

“We rely on those dollars,” said Connie Benton Wolfe, president and CEO of the northeast Indiana agency.

Since the inception of the Older American Act Nutrition Program in 1972, more than 8 billion meals have been provided to older citizens.

National waves

Agency officials across the nation have been advised to plan a funding cut of between 7 percent and 10 percent for now, although the exact percentage is still unknown. The cuts will take place in the federal fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, although the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging recommended that agencies begin planning the necessary cuts July 1.

Already the local agency has experienced the first ripple of the budget control wave.

“We are already unable to accept new clients,” Wolfe said.

The agency serves Allen, Adams, DeKalb, Huntington, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben, Wells and Whitley counties. About 161,070 meals were provided to nearly 2,000 clients last year through Meals on Wheels and at 13 congregate dining sites, said Mary Wiemann, senior vice president of advancement at Aging & In-Home Services of Northeast Indiana.

Clients are referred to the Meals on Wheels program by relatives, neighbors or agency case workers, Wiemann said.

“Many times we get calls from (grown) children looking for help because Mom or Dad is forgetting to turn the burners off when cooking or maybe that there is simply no food in the house,” Wiemann said.

Currently, there is a waiting list of about 50 people for the Meals on Wheels program, she said.

Hard choices

Gerald Tindall, 73, of Fort Wayne, has been receiving the meals for about three months.

Tindall said the meals help – especially financially – and the food is good.

Tindall gets about $800 a month in Social Security, but has to pay supplemental insurance for his medications which cost $150 to $200 a month, he said.

Tindall’s wife of 40 years died in 2007 and then he had to quit work because of multiple heart and lung problems. When he lost his home he moved in with his daughter.

“I pay what I can and plan one day at a time, especially for food,” he said. “The meals help.”

Several years ago Meals on Wheels went to paid staff instead of volunteers.

According to Wiemann, it became increasingly difficult to get volunteers, especially with the lagging economy and the cost of gasoline.

Aging and In-Home Services is doing everything it can to sustain the Meals on Wheels routes and staff and prevent a reduction of services, Wolfe said.

“We have created some organizational efficiency over the past year by consolidating deliveries into large company-owned refrigerated delivery vehicles from personal cars with coolers at a cost-savings,” said Wolfe.

Those funds – about $4,000 – are now available for meals rather than for gasoline, she said.

“Meals to homebound individuals are essential to their ability to maintain their independence, and that creates a savings over the cost of institutionalization or hospitalization,” Wolfe said.

In addition, poor nutrition leads to increased health care costs, she added.

Hungry seniors

Sandra White, 65, has been a Meals on Wheels client for several years.

White, who uses a wheelchair, said the meals that are delivered weekly to her Berry Street home are great.

“They are well balanced and include fancy items such as chicken cordon bleu,” White said.

White fell in 2008 and suffered injuries and also has ambulatory and breathing problems.

She served on the board of the Allen County Council on Aging until it merged with Aging & In-Home Services of Northeast Indiana last year. White then served on the agency’s task force through April until it was phased out. White was involved in fundraising.

In addition to relying on federal and state money, the agency accepts donations, Wolfe said.

The cost of a meal is roughly $7 and the agency is reimbursed from $5.32 to $8 through federal and state funds. The state average for participant donations is $1.51 per meal, Wolfe said.

– Vivian Sade, The Journal Gazette