One of Manatee County’s most effective social service programs for seniors has reached its client capacity.
That’s scary because baby boomers are retiring at 10,000 a day in the United States and Manatee has its fair share, according to national statistics.
The five-day-a-week hot, nutritious, meal delivery program for homebound Manatee seniors established in 1972 by Meals on Wheels PLUS can no longer add new clients due to money constraints, Maribeth Phillips, the chief operating officer for Meals on Wheels PLUS, said Monday.
All current Meals on Wheels PLUS’ meal delivery clients — and they are estimated to be between 750 and 800 daily — will be grandfathered in, said Stephanie Grepling, a Meals on Wheels PLUS spokeswoman.
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New clients who can pay for their meals can get them delivered, but the cost was not immediately available.
New hot meal clients will be referred to Manatee County’s Area Agency on Aging in Tampa, Phillips said.
“Right now, if we receive a call and a client can’t pay for their meals, we refer them to the Senior Connection Center,” Phillips said. “They are given a questionnaire through a phone assessment about their needs. From the assessment clients are given a priority score based on their level of need and possible funding options.”
We know the baby boomers are retiring at 10,000 a year. What we don’t know is how many people will need our services. We never want to turn anyone away.
Maribeth Phillips, CEO of Meals on Wheels PLUS
Many in the community were stunned by Phillips’ announcement that the program must be cut off to new clients.
“Oh no! That’s terrible,” said a staffer at a Bradenton social service agency when told the situation.
Will Manatee baby boomers get free meals?
In Manatee County, there has been a 40 percent increase in the number of meals for homebound seniors over the last five years, Phillips said.
But the federal money that Meals on Wheels receives for the program just hasn’t kept up with growing demand for the product, Phillips added.
“Our federal funding ran out in August of 2016 for the 2016 year because of the increase in demand,” Phillips said. “In 2016 we had several days where we served more than 800 meals.”
When asked what kind of lump sum donation would allow the agency to go back to business as usual, Phillips said: “In 2016, the lump sum was $360,000. If the same trend occurs for the next two years, we would be looking at $700,000 for the next two years. We know the baby boomers are retiring at 10,000 a year. What we don’t know is how many people will need our services. We never want to turn anyone away.”
Phillips said that it is possible the program could once again add new clients in the future if the federal government boosted Manatee’s funding and the community responded with donations and pledges.
“If we had the funding, we would love to take new clients immediately,” Phillips said. “We will currently take anyone who can pay for the meals today.”
“It would make a great impact if clients and donors could help us by pledging something,” Phillips added.
To pledge or for information: 941-747-4655 or mealsonwheelsplus.org.