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Meals on Wheels asks for help

By Dawn Burleigh

dawn.burleigh@orangeleader.com

 

Linda Hughes, director of Meals on Wheels, has worked for the program for 25 years. Tuesday, she asked Orange County Commissioners Court for help.

“The program is in financial trouble,” Hughes told the court during the public comments section of the meeting. “People will still get meals but someone else may have to take over our program.”

With grants and other funding being cut, the program is having difficulty meeting the needs.

“If the county would provide funding for us, there are grants we could qualify for,” Hughes said.

Hughes said she had reached out to a prior county judge for assistance but did not receive any.

Hurricane Rita and Ike struck financial blows to the program between vehicles stolen, burned up and holes drilled into the gas tanks. Five of the vehicles were flooded during Ike.

“No vehicles were running after the storms,” Hughes said after the meeting. “It also caused an increase in insurance rates.”

To compound the issue, Hughes said she is understaffed.

“I am down to three kitchen staff instead of four,” Hughes said. “I have two employees I have not replaced.”

Budgeting will not permit filling the positions.

Hughes, with the assistance of the programs bookkeeper, has delivered meals on one route for the better part of seven weeks to make ends meet.

“Our newest vehicle is a 2009,” Hughes said. “Repair bills are outrageous. I have contacted other departments concerning vehicles. One responded and said their vehicles are used up when they are done with them. Another department never responded.”

The program has been in operation in Orange County for 50 years.

“At Optimist Village, we are a congregate meal site,” Cynthia Nagle, assistant at Optimist Village Apartments, said. “It is more than just the food, it has a positive effect.”

For some seniors, Meals on Wheels is the only time they interact with another person.

“The primary focus for any group is self preservation,” Nagle said. “If the program goes to Jefferson County and they need to make cuts Orange County clients will suffer.”

Linda Hughes said the program is not cutting any meals.

“I may lose employees but the meals will continue,” Hughes said.

The program covers seniors in the city limits as well as in Little Cypress and Pinehurst. Not only do they deliver meals but they also offer transportation to seniors.

“We provide rides to the grocery store and the beauty shop,” Hughes said. “The cost is a $1 a ride.”

“And they know the times for those routes, too,” Nagle said.

Commissioners were unable to discuss the matter with Hughes due to the Texas Open Meeting Act will not allow the court to discuss items not on the agenda.

Commissioner John Banken spoke with Hughes after the meeting and said he would like to have a workshop to allow time to discuss the program prior to placing it on a future agenda.

Anyone interested in volunteering with the Orange County Action Association Meals on Wheels can visit the Senior Center located at 103 5th Street in Orange.