COLUMBIA - Senior centers throughout Mid-Missouri have expanded their meal programs despite decreases in federal funding.
The Central Missouri Area Agency on Aging (CMAAA) operates senior centers in 19 counties and offers home-delivery meal programs as well as congregate meals inside the centers. According to annual reports, the total number of home-delivered meals increased 28 percent in the 2012 fiscal year to 773,102 meals for 2,689 seniors. The CMAAA also served 408,863 congregate meals, which was a four percent increase from the 2011 fiscal year.
The expansion of the meal programs came despite a slight decrease in the CMAAA's budget. Revenue from federal grants, which make up about a third of the agency's budget, decreased for the second straight year. Senior center officials said the centers have had to become more financially efficient to accommodate increasing demand for meals.
"Everything is going up, yet the budget stays the same," said Matt Davison, the assistant administrator of Oakland Senior Center in Columbia. "But we find ways to make our budget stretch to the last penny."
Mack Brushwood, 94, eats lunch five days a week at Oakland Senior Center. He said for many clients, the center provides their only quality meals each week.
"The food that they serve here would be different types of food that they could not buy on their own," Brushwood said. "So they get a better type of food than if they were at home."
Brushwood said if funding for senior centers continues to decline, the centers will have no choice but to begin cutting back on their meal programs.
"There's only two possibilities. One would be we go out," Brushwood said. "The other would be that we have to reduce the number of employees and the amount of food and the type of food."
Oakland Senior Center Administrator Brenda Woods said the center delivers meals to eight to ten new clients each week. To continue accepting new clients without turning any away, Woods said the center has taken measures to cut costs, including peeling potatoes rather than buying more expensive processed potatoes. She said each meal costs Oakland Senior Center less than five dollars, while the average cost per meal of all CMAAA-operated senior centers is $5.47.
Woods said donations to the center from local stores and organizations have helped keep costs down, and local donors would become even more important if senior centers cannot secure more funding.