TVCCA's Meals on Wheels Facing Challenges in Northeast Region

CAFCA | December 29, 2014 |

 As the director of nutrition for Thames Valley Council for Community Action, Tim Grills knows better than anybody the importance of connecting the region’s most needy with life-sustaining programs – among the most vital of which is Meals on Wheels. But the program has been financially troubled in recent years as federal and state grants have dried up or shrunk dramatically. Grills recently spoke about the health of the program.  

 Q: What is the financial situation of Meals on Wheels like this fiscal year?
 A: Our contract was basically up in September and because of the way our finances work, it's a fee for service and there's a criteria that says we can't go over five percent of what we asked for last year. The long and short of it is, what we can do is the southeast portion of Connecticut will go back to four-day service, which is phenomenal. But because we can't go after the full amount we need, I can't restore Windham and the northeast to four-day service yet, it's still two-day service and it won't change until we go through another RFP year, which doesn't happen until 2016.

 Q: What kind of challenges does that discrepancy represent?
A: That's going to be tough. What we'll use is our Carnivale, which is our major fundraiser for Meals on Wheels for the whole region, which will help support (the northeast). The neat part is that it's starting to take on a life of itself. We have some phenomenal community partners that are helping out this year, and that will help us in the Northeast and Windham.

 Q: Is it possible that Windham or the northeast will have four-day service this year with the extra financial support?
A: We’ll see how the numbers will fall and we'll try, but it’s, "where is our biggest bang for the buck," and that’s in the southeast. Some of our clients actually like the idea of getting all of their meals at once instead of every day, but that doesn't hold true of that other aspect of what we need to do, which is that wellness check every day.
Q: How much of a role does that wellness check play?
A: I’ll give you a recent example. We had a recent business after hours the other day and one of the gentlemen there said, "my dad was on Meals on Wheels and it was great, because I could have the peace of mind to go to work and know my father is being taken care of." We probably have 20 calls today that we have to make, because the people either weren't home or something was going on in the house that they couldn't get to the door.

Q: Why does Meals on Wheels funding have so much variability?
A: Meals on Wheels back in the day used to be a grant program and we could control that. Since then, it's become a fee for service program where we have to put a budget together and if we don't serve that number of meals, we will never meet our budget needs.

Q: How critical is Meals on Wheels to TVCCA’s overall mission?
A: We give seniors the ability to stay in their home, to keep their dignity and not become a burden to the state or a long-term care type facility. For the dollars you spend for a meal to one day in a rehab center, think about the difference. And everything stems from good nutrition.