Editor's note:This is the 19th in a series of stories featuring the 21 agencies that will receive funding from the Finney County United Way in 2013.
BY SCOTT AUST
Lois Hake was resistant when family urged her to get help from the Finney County Meals on Wheels program earlier this year, but today, she is glad she did.
Hake, 66, has diabetes and chronic arthritis in her back and hip, which makes it difficult for her to stand up long enough to cook meals, let alone go shopping.
"The Meals on Wheels meals seem to balance out my blood sugar. Not only that, they're good. I think they're excellent," she said. "I was surprised how good the food is. It works really well."
On Monday, Hake had a baked potato with sour cream, peas, sliced chicken breast and apple sauce.
Because of her health, she tends to eat a lot of sandwiches. But the Meals on Wheels program provides her a hot meal.
"I have to have help to get out of the house. I walk with a walker," she said. "I didn't want to do try it (the program) at first because I thought it wouldn't be good or it would take something away from me. But now I would fight to keep it."
Meals on Wheels is one of 21 organizations that receive funding from Finney County United Way. Volunteers deliver meals Monday through Friday to people who are homebound or handicapped, and sometimes a sack lunch on Saturday delivered with the Friday meal.
This year, the program is celebrating its 40th anniversary. In 1972, meals were prepared by the Luau Inn, which is no longer in business. Since 1978, meals have been prepared by St. Catherine Hospital. A registered dietician prepares a nutritious menu.
Meals cost $2.65 each. Currently, 101 people are served, 31 of which receive free meals because they are considered low income. A total of 375 volunteers give time and use of their vehicles throughout the year on eight city routes and seven county routes.
Meals on Wheels is funded by Finney County, Finnup Foundation, Garden City Company Partnership, the United Way, Mary Jo Williams Charitable Trust and private donations. The overall 2012 budget is $134,035, with $15,000 coming from the United Way, or 11 percent of the program's total budget.
Director Patti Thummel said she is pleased to help people maintain dignity and independence. She said not only older people use the program. She has clients ranging from their 20s to their 90s who have some medical condition that keeps them homebound most of the time.
Last year, Meals on Wheels served 23,448 meals to the homebound. Of those, 5,551 were served to people with low incomes, which is primarily where United Way funds come into play. Thummel said 31 low-income clients were served last year at a cost of about $14,553.
"We don't turn anyone away because they can't afford the cost," she said.
In the last couple of years, United Way funding has allowed Meals on Wheels to offer more, including free holiday meals for all clients, Sunday meals for low-income clients and "blizzard packs", which is a package of non-perishable food clients receive at the start of winter months that can be used when inclement weather causes meal delivery to be suspended.
If United Way funding were eliminated, Thummel said, those three programs could get modified, reduced or eliminated. That probably would hurt low-income clients the most.
"Our low-income clients depend very dearly on us," Thummel said. "I was shocked when I went into homes to do visits about how many people don't have food on their shelves. They just don't have enough."
Many clients don't have family and typically have high health costs and medical bills they struggle to pay. Thummel said she knows of some clients who cut back on medications some months so they can pay other bills.
"That's one of the reasons we started Sunday meals was because they were trying to stretch that Friday meal to last the whole weekend," Thummel said. "I have truly, truly been humbled by this job."
The local United Way's annual campaign goal is $550,000 for 2013, the same as it has been for the last few years.
The 21 partner agencies for the 2013 campaign are also the same as this year.
They include: Miles of Smiles; Russell Child Development Center; Finney County RSVP; Kansas Children's Service League; Catholic Social Service; Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Program; Smart Start; Playground Program; Family Crisis Services; Spirit of the Plains, CASA; The Salvation Army; Meals on Wheels; Habitat for Humanity; Garden City Family YMCA; Garden City Chapter of the Red Cross; Santa Fe Trail Council of the Boy Scouts of America; Community Day Care Center; United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries; United Cerebral Palsy of Kansas; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Finney and Kearny Counties; and Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland.