EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire

December 4, 2013

More funding sought for Meals on Wheels

Federal budget cuts have hurt program for seniors

SALEM — For some senior citizens, it’s the difference between eating a hot, nutritious meal or nothing at all.

For Ron Lacroix, 76, of Salem, it means eating a lot fewer frozen dinners.

Rockingham Nutrition’s Meals on Wheels program serves 285,000 meals a year to approximately 3,000 residents in Rockingham County’s 37 communities.

But reduced federal funding for the program, including the recent automatic spending cuts that slashed $81,000 from its budget, have had a dramatic impact.

“We are delivering 17,000 fewer meals,” said Debra Perou, the agency’s executive director.

Meals on Wheels had to reduce its 70-employee payroll by $70,000 in June, laying off an employee and cutting pay for many others. It also relies on local government funding, donations and 240 volunteers to keep operating. Its $2.5 million annual budget is down $300,000 from four years ago.

The prospect of losing even more funding would be devastating to the program, Perou said yesterday.

It also would be devastating to people such as Gwen LaSpina, 76, of Salem, who depends on Meals on Wheels to serve her lunch three times a week at the Ingram Senior Center.

Cooking healthy meals can be a chore for many senior citizens, especially if they are disabled.

“I really rely on these meals,” LaSpina said. “That way I feel like I’m eating something nourishing and I don’t have to worry about it.”

Making sure senior citizens continue to receive their meals at an affordable cost is a cause U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said she intends to keep fighting for in Washington.

Yesterday, Shaheen and Perou helped Meals on Wheels driver Michele Small deliver meals of turkey, mashed potatoes, glazed carrots and eggnog cheesecake to senior citizens throughout Salem.

Shaheen also met with members of the senior center and nearly a dozen Meals on Wheels volunteers and staff members, who were preparing approximately 150 meals. She thanked them for their efforts.

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