To contribute to Meals On Wheels call Stacie Smith at 423-424-4277 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meals On Wheels has delivered weekday and weekend meals to low-income elderly residents for more than a decade, but this year weekend meals have been eliminated and the number of seniors receiving meals this month compared to those served in December has been cut by more than 200 people.
The program stopped serving congregate meals to residents at the NAPFE (National Association of Postal and Federal Employees) Tower on Highway 58 and has more than 670 low-income seniors waiting to receive meals. It's the largest waiting list the program has ever had, said Stacie Smith, program manager.
The problem is sequestration, a 5.3 percent federal cut to nondefense discretionary spending totaling $85 billion.
The sequester slashed $150,000 in March from the Southeast Tennessee Development District/Southeast Tennessee Area Agency on Aging and Disability, which implements Meals On Wheels.
This month, the agency started its new fiscal year with a $243,000 deficit.
The list of clients in the 10-county Southeast Tennessee area has fallen from about 1,000 to 800.
Meals On Wheels officials are asking for donations to continue their mission of feeding the elderly.
"We don't have funding, but calls are coming in because people still need food," said Smith. "We've got to look at other funding sources and private donations."
Across the nation, 5,000 Meals on Wheels programs are reeling from sequestration cuts. The Meals On Wheels Association of America estimates that the sequestration means 19 million fewer meals for seniors this year. The White House estimates the loss at about 4 million meals, according to news reports.
The Meals On Wheels Association of America released a survey of the programs in June that stated they have been forced to cut on average 364 meals a week. Forty percent of the programs have eliminated staff positions and one in six is closing congregate meal sites or home-delivered meal programs, according to the survey.
One full-time position has been eliminated with the Southeast Tennessee Area Agency on Aging, Smith said.
The NAPFE Tower was one of 17 congregate meal sites. Agencies in other areas also are considering serving meals at congregate sites four days a week instead of five, said Smith.
But some good is coming from the cuts.
Hundreds of people participated recently in a food drive that brought bags of groceries to seniors.
The Pack the Pantry Food Drive started in late May or June when Smith got a call from First Baptist Church of Soddy-Daisy music leader Bobby Boutwell offering help.
Smith only asked for food and donations from Soddy-Daisy. But word spread, and by the time the project ended this month, more than 28 churches brought enough food to supply 206 seniors with bags of groceries. Morning Pointe of Chattanooga and the Lantern Alzheimer's Memory Care Center of Excellence also donated. More than 340 students with the World Changers organization came in vans to help distribute the food.
"We had no idea that it would be huge," said Smith.
Also this month the Chattanooga Area Food Bank agreed to partner with Meals On Wheels. The partnership allows Meals On Wheels to buy food from the Food Bank warehouse, which is less expensive than shopping in stores.
Because of the partnership, 70 elderly residents will get weekend meals this week, said Smith.
Lee Mason, a 93-year-old World War II veteran, widower and father, said he's grateful.
Assistance from Meals On Wheels helps him maintain the independence of living alone because the program provides a daily meal and assurance that at least once a day, except weekends, someone will check on him.
"I'm doing pretty good for a young man," he said Wednesday after receiving a meal.
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or call 423-757-6431.