“Freezing Out Senior Hunger” Fairbanks Senior Center kicks off the 2022 Year-End Giving Campaign
FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - As the senior population continues to grow in the Interior, recent changes to funding could lead to a reduction in meals provided to those most vulnerable.
The Fairbanks Senior Center receives funding from the Nutrition, Transportation, and Support Services (NTS) Grant. With funds from the grant, the agency is able to operate the Meals on Wheels (MOW) program.
In a 2022 survey, 99% of recipients enrolled in the Meals on Wheels program stated this service helps them live more independently. However, budget cuts mean the program could lose $130,000 over the next three years.
Ashley Edgington works as a volunteer coordinator for Meals on Wheels. She said in addition to budget issues, there has been a 65% increase in seniors signing up for the program since the COVID-19 pandemic. “One of the ways to mitigate that is to take people off of the Meals on Wheels program,” Edgington said. “The pandemic changed eligibility requirements, and that meant anyone regardless of their situation could join our program.”
Fewer requirements meant anyone over the age of 60 could apply for services, but Edgington noted there is less funding now than before the pandemic. A Senior Needs Assessment that was taken three years ago shows data projecting the senior population to double, even possibly triple in some areas over the next 10 years.
Last fiscal year the Senior Center provided 74,000 meals to seniors, with volunteers contributing over 8,000 hours of service. That number is projected to drop significantly to 55,000 if the grant money is not restored and the private donations don’t fill the gap.
“There are some people who are still in need in the community and would really need to stay on that program,” Edgington said. “But we are facing, due to that budget gap, removing them. We don’t want that.”
The budget cut will also mean the program will have to eliminate providing emergency food supplies given to seniors when the Meals on Wheels program cannot deliver.
The Meals on Wheels services to the Delta Junction area will be eliminated entirely beginning January 1, 2023.
Edgington says Meals on Wheels not only provides meals to seniors in the community, but the program also works as a daily wellness check provided by volunteer drivers.
“We don’t just provide that meal, we provide that extra thing for everybody,” Edgington explained. “Volunteers go above and beyond. It’s heartwarming, and the seniors just call all the time with... they are so touched and thankful.”
During the 2022 Year-End Giving Campaign, Meals on Wheels and the Fairbanks Senior Center are asking the community to help “Freeze Out Hunger” this holiday season.
“We have a senior population that is 18,000 strong and growing,” Edgington said. “Often those seniors don’t have family, and they don’t have friends, [but] what they do have is us. And so we (MOW) and the Senior Center can’t really function without our community support.
Edgington said one way to give back is by bringing fresh fruits and shelf-stable snacks to the agency. Another way to help is with donation of funds. “Every dollar has a direct impact,” she said.
Even a $5.00 donation, Edgington emphasized, could be the difference between a warm meal and an empty stomach.
To learn more about The Freezing Out Senior Hunger campaign visit the Fairbanks Senior Center website.
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