Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland faces a potential loss of about $1 million under the proposed budget from President Donald Trump that could affect service to 1,000 people in the region, including those who receive kosher meals.
A majority, 56 percent, of the regional Meals on Wheels’ $9 million budget comes from offices on aging in local counties, who contract with the group to provide these meals, said Stephanie Archer-Smith, executive director for Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland. That money is specifically earmarked by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for senior nutrition and given to states which then distribute to the counties.
Trump’s budget proposes a 17.9 percent cut in HHS funding, which, if applied across the board, would significantly cut the Community Services Block Grant, which is where this funding comes from. This source of funding is only 3 percent of the national Meals on Wheels funding but affects regional chapters much more drastically.
“The first and most damaging cut would be that we’d have to pull back on the people we serve,” Archer-Smith said. During the 2015 fiscal year, the organization served nearly 3,000 people.
The services provided by Meals on Wheels includes primarily the two meals — one hot and one cold — on weekdays along with other supplementary services such as grocery assistance, case management and companionship. Those interested apply online and the organization follows up with a phone interview and in-home visit to assess the person’s needs.
According to Archer-Smith, research has found that seniors who utilize Meals on Wheels are less likely to visit the emergency room and report feeling happier and less lonely.
“The social interaction is equally important to the nutritional intervention,” Archer-Smith said.
For those who keep kosher, Meals on Wheels is able to accommodate them thanks to help from Levindale Geriatric Center and Hospital, whose kosher kitchen provides about 700 meals per week, said Thomas Morten, the production manager for Meals on Wheels at Levindale. The meals are designed by the director of the program and a nutritionist, and menus change three times a year. Morten said they also do special meals for the Jewish holidays. Consistency is key, he added, but they’ll mix it up on occasion.
“Every now and then we’ll find ways to be creative as new kosher foods become available,” he said.
In fact, Levindale has been involved since the beginning, providing kosher meals since 1960, the same year the program was started by Ernestine McCollum of Maryland Home Economics Association and Beatrice Strouse with the Baltimore chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women.
Hannah Millman, 75, is a current recipient of the kosher meals program. She was getting meals every weekday after a recent accident, but now receives meals just two or three times a month. She has nothing but praise for the kosher meals, giving them the ultimate compliment: “The food is very good,” she said.
“I’ve recommended it to many, many people,” she added.
Archer-Smith says the program is not just the right thing to do, but is a worthwhile investment, allowing seniors to live independently for longer and saving money in trips to the ER and cutting down nursing home stays.
“My pitch [for Meals on Wheels] would be that it works,” she said. “It has rigorous research that shows its impact.”
Those interested in getting involved can go to mealsonwheelsmd.org.