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Whitman County Council on Aging keeps programs going

The Whitman County Council on Aging expects to feel the anticipated $5,000 reduction in state nutrition funds and knows it will be the first of more cuts to its Meals on Wheels programs in Colfax and Pullman, plus its six senior meal sites in Palouse, Colfax, Rosalia, Pullman, Tekoa and Oakesdale.

Senior Meal in Colfax
Senior lunch served at a Colfax church.

We hope to minimize the impact of state cuts to make them seamless to seniors,” said Scott Hallett, director of the program for 11 years since he retired from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administration of federal farm programs. 

“Support has been good through the years.  As costs go up, we have funded them through kind-hearted people.  We will continue to try to raise more money,” he said.

Along with several people who give monthly or quarterly donations, the Meals on Wheels (MOW) “March for Meals” raises about $9,000 from sponsors the end of April.

MOW serves a hot meal to 15 to 30 people in Colfax and Pullman 365 days a year. The staff are Scott, and part-time clerical help and cooks. 

During the year, about 150 volunteers keep Meals on Wheels, senior meal sites, food banks and commodity distributions going.

Meals on Wheels in Pullman
Meals on Wheels volunteers deliver meals in Pullman

Churches and service groups schedule the year and recruit their members.  Volunteers have background checks, he said.  Some volunteers help one day, some three days and some for a week.

“Volunteers receive as much as the person given the meal,” Scott said.

“We’re the only reason some people can stay in their homes and maintain their independence.  Some can’t stand long enough to prepare food,” he said.  “Nutrition is one of the primary factors in senior health.”

Meal deliveries also bring daily contact.  Volunteers may be the only people seniors see all day.

“I thought I’d do this work for just two or three years after I retired, but I’ve been here 11 years,” said Scott, a member of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Colfax, where he has lived 30 years.  “My faith helps motivate me.

“It’s not about spreading religion, but about people caring for people,” he said.  “Many of us can see down the road we may need such care for ourselves.  Some are just one accident away from needing help.”

Scott sees the impact of the economic downturn in the food banks, serving 680 to 730 families a month.  In previous recent years, the average number of families served was in the low 600s.

He believes the state legislature will protect the food banks as a safety net in these economic times when so many need help.

“Many work and just don’t earn enough to make it,” he said.  “There’s a big distance between those who have and those who don’t have in Whitman County.”

A third of those the food bank serves are seniors.  Scott attributes that to social workers in the Council on Aging letting seniors know where they can find help.

“Most seniors resist looking for help and won’t ask for it if they don’t have to,” he said.  “Their ethic is to get by on their own.”

Whitman County has a pilot commodity food subsidy program for seniors 60 or older with incomes less than $1,174 a month.

“The average income of those on the program is $748 a month,” Scott said.  “I don’t know how they live on that, paying for food, gas, heat and housing.”

Whitman Hospital Meal prep
Whitman county Senior meal preparation

The Council on Aging has food pantries in Colfax, Rosalia and Malden, and 12 surplus commodity distribution sites at city halls or fire stations around the county, so no one has far to drive.

It’s more economical for us to take food out than for 600 families to drive to Colfax,” he said.

Much of the operating funds for transportation to deliver the food comes from the Emergency Food Assistance Program of the State Department of Agriculture.

“Hunger is not a political Republican vs. Democrat issue.  It’s a people issue,” Scott said.  “The state legislature is concerned that people have enough food to eat.”

Scott said the food supply comes from Second Harvest, Northwest Harvest, individual donations, the USDA, Tom’s Turkey Drive and the Walmart Superstore in Pullman.

In the year ending in June 2010, the food banks and commodity program distributed 239,000 pounds of food, 26 percent more than in 2009, he reported.  In contrast, in 1999, they distributed 49,000 pounds of food.

Partnering with Tom’s Turkey Drive in Spokane and FISH (Friends in Service to Humanity) in Colfax, they distributed 564 turkeys last year, for the first time in Whitman County. FISH also provides immediate response to emergency needs to help on days the food banks are not open.

For information, call 509-595-0956 or email coascott@qwestoffice.net.

Copyright © December 2010 - The Fig Tree