IN THE NEWS: Seniors in need get a nutritious meal despite cutbacks as JFS starts Meals on Wheels program

Lois K. Solomon

Sun Sentinel

Oct 1, 2013

Frail seniors who no longer cook can get nutritious meals delivered to their homes, courtesy of a new service that seeks to alleviate cuts to government food programs.

Ruth Rales Jewish Family Service, a beneficiary agency of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, has started its own Meals On Wheels program, targeted at the homebound elderly who lack the strength to make their own food.

The new service has 16 clients but can accommodate about 50, said Danielle Hartman, family service president. Seniors whose incomes are at 150 percent of poverty level or below can get the meals for free, while others pay $3.50 or $7 per meal, depending on their incomes.

The kosher meals, including salmon, stuffed cabbage, chicken breast, lasagna and meat loaf, are delivered once a week by volunteers. Clients can order three to seven meals, packed in microwaveable containers, each week, she said.

"So many people are on waiting lists for county services," Hartman said. "They need food, and there is not enough funding."

The service started the program with $120,000, which includes the cost of food and a part-time staffer. The food is cooked by clients of JARC, the Jewish Association for Residential Care, a Jewish Federation agency that aids the developmentally disabled.

The meals are prepared by 30 adults in JARC's culinary training program, said Debra Hallow, JARC director. The program is developing a growing list of local clients, Hallow said, including hotels whose guests need meals that are glatt kosher, or prepared under the strictest kosher standards.

Family service volunteers have been delivering packages from the service's food pantry for many years but never offered cooked meals, Hartman said. This type of service was one of 14 unmet needs listed in a 2008 study of south Palm Beach County senior citizens, she said.

The government sequester, or federal budget cuts, has forced 40 percent of Meals On Wheels programs to reduce the number of days they deliver food, a Meals On Wheels Association of America report showed. The association estimated Florida would receive about $15 million for home-delivered nutrition services after the sequester, about a 5 percent decrease from the previous year, similar to the national average.

That may not seem like an enormous cut, but Erika Kelly, the association's chief advocacy officer, said the reductions come at the same time baby boomers are retiring, donations have decreased and food and gas prices have increased.

"On top of all of these challenges, there is increased need and increased demand," Kelly said.

Even seniors who don't qualify for free meals seek food assistance as their health declines.

Harriet Morris, 87, of Delray Beach, found out about the family service's Meals On Wheels as she recovered from kidney surgery recently. She paid $7 each for three meals to try out the program, which was able to accommodate her salt-free diet.

"I don't have the patience or strength to stand on my feet," Morris said.

Ruth Rales Jewish Family Service (JFS) offers help, hope and humanity through a comprehensive range of programs and services which support people of all ages and beliefs. With locations in Boca Raton and Delray Beach, JFS programs and services include food and financial assistance, senior services, counseling and mental health services and many volunteer opportunities. Funding is provided by private and corporate support, grants, special events and individuals who reach thousands in need each year. For more information, contact (561) 852-3333 or visit www.ruthralesjfs.org.

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