April 27th, 2009 by Beverly Carroll in Georgia

RINGGOLD, Ga. - Bertha Irwin's world has shrunk to the living room of her Three Notch Road home.

The homebound 75-year-old, who has fallen three times, lies on a hospital bed. It's where Martha Lewis delivers a nutritionally balanced meal to Mrs. Irwin five days a week.

"If she didn't come, I wouldn't have anything decent to eat," Mrs. Irwin said.

Staff Photo by Gillian Bolsover Meals on Wheels trays are prepared at the Catoosa Senior Center Friday.

Staff Photo by Gillian Bolsover Meals on Wheels trays...

Mrs. Irwin participates in the Meals on Wheels program, operated by the Coosa Valley Regional Services and Development Corp. The Rome, Ga.-based organization provides services in 10 North Georgia counties.

But Meals on Wheels is among food, adult day care and in-home respite programs hit statewide when lawmakers plugged a $2.2 billion budget hole.

Statewide, adult services lost $18.9 million. The local Meals on Wheels program was cut by $82,000.

State Reps. Jay Neal, R-LaFayette; Martin Scott, R-Rossville; Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold; and Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, got about $25,000 restored, Coosa Valley board president Ron Gracy said.

"With more and more people (outliving their retirement), Georgia and the U.S. have a huge problem ahead of them," Mr. Gracy said.

The net reduction for this fiscal year was $44,000, about 4 percent of the budget. That's about 10,500 meals, Executive Director J. Olney Meadows said.

Because of attrition, Coosa Valley did not have to cut anyone from the program, Mr. Meadows said. The waiting is list is under 1,000, he added.

Eligibility is determined by need, rather than income, officials said. Applicants must be homebound, unable to leave to get groceries and prepared food, or to prepare balanced meals for themselves.

Darrell and Beth Daugherty waited two years so Mrs. Daugherty, a diabetic with fibromyalgia, could have meals to fit her special diet needs.

"I can't cook her balanced meals," Mr. Daugherty said. "I can make breakfast, that's all."

For Eva Pruett, 93, Meals on Wheels is more than just a hot dinner. The widow went to the Catoosa Senior Center regularly to eat and socialize until macular degeneration, a degenerative eye disease that destroys the central field of vision, stole her vision and mobility.

"You have to be able to serve yourself," Mrs. Pruett said. "There was plenty who helped me."

Catoosa County is committed to supporting the program, Finance Director Carl Henson said. The county provides the use of its senior citizens center to prepare the food and a Trans-Aid program to deliver the meals.

"We provide the facility and the drivers and the vehicles," Mr. Henson said. "This year, (Coosa Valley) paid for one of the drivers and provided us with some of the vehicles, and we provide the maintenance for that."

Mr. Meadows said the agency is concerned about cuts in the coming budget year.

"Our backup plan if we get deep cuts is to turn to the community this summer to seek companies, individuals, churches or organizations which might support one or more homebound individuals for a year in their county," he said.

"For one person, $1,550 would cover one year; $3,000 would support two individuals all year long for home-delivered meals."