College Park Meals on Wheels continues to deliver despite donation drop
Program seeks new funding sources in economic downturn
On a recent July morning with temperatures fast approaching the mid-90s Prudi Shinn was, as usual, in the kitchen at College Park United Methodist Church, helping to make more than 150 meals for elderly and disabled residents as part of the College Park Meals on Wheels program.
"I get here at 7 a.m., and I'm usually done by 11 a.m.," said Shinn of College Park, who started at Meals on Wheels 19 years ago when she was pregnant and looking for a hobby to help pass the time. "After I had the baby, I just kept coming back. Once they get you, you're staying."
Shinn is one of about 20 to 30 volunteers at the local nonprofit, which has delivered breakfast, lunch and dinner to elderly residents five days a week for 36 years. The group one of about 5,000 local Meals on Wheels chapters in the U.S. serves more than 50 people a day, but recent drops in funding and donations have made it increasingly difficult to operate.
"We keep looking for bargains on food," said College Park Meals on Wheels chairman Jim Hartsock, adding that the group shops at grocery stores and also accepts donated food. "A lot of these [customers] are older people, so in heat like this, they don't venture out."
The group has volunteers ranging from teenagers to octogenarians and serves residents in College Park, Berwyn Heights and parts of Beltsville and Greenbelt. It buys its own ingredients; delivers items including fish, fruits, vegetables and sandwiches; and also gives customers non-perishable food packages for weather emergencies.
"The people are very appreciative," said Meals on Wheels driver Lois Alexander of College Park. The group also delivers dinner to customers who are alone on Thanksgiving and Christmas. "They're happy to see you. Sometimes, you're the only person that they see during the day."
In years past, the group has relied on federal funding, the cities of College Park and Greenbelt, local politicians, community organizations and private donors to help cover more than $100,000 in annual costs, said College Park Meals on Wheels treasurer Lisa Ealley.
Donations began decreasing in 2009 due to a struggling economy, said former chairman Don Byrd. The group then had to raise its weekly price for recipients from $20 to $25 in February, and had to buy a new $3,500 refrigerator after the old one stopped working this winter.
"We're the type of organization that is just as thankful for $1,000 as we are for $1," said Byrd, a former city councilman who has volunteered at Meals on Wheels for 12 years. "I cannot tell you how rewarding it is. It gives you that little fuzzy feeling."
The program has received grants of as much as $2,500 from the College Park City Council in past years, but Ealley convinced council members to allocate $3,500 in this year's city budget. Meals on Wheels volunteers are still hoping they'll be able to ride out the difficult economic times and continue preparing meals and carrying them to residents for years to come.
"That stuff is heavy, but it's not heavy when you realize why you're doing it," Hartsock said. "It seems like when most [volunteers] get involved with the program, it's for life."