Meals On Wheels, Steady Under Pressure Of Potential Cuts

Mar 24, 2017

Lyle Cox on his delivery route.
Credit Maggie Mullen

Like many federal programs across the country, Meals on Wheels is facing possible cuts as part of President Donald Trump’s proposed budget. The program’s Wyoming partners have already experienced cuts at the state level due to the energy downturn, and it’s hard to know when the federal budget will be decided on. In the meantime, many homebound seniors and Wyomingites with disabilities that depend on the program are concerned about the future of their care.

Lyle Cox has volunteered as a delivery driver for Natrona County Meals on Wheels for nearly 24 years. Today’s route is on the northwestern edge of Casper.

“I’ve driven this route many, many times, so I’ve kind of gotten to know the people and enjoy them,” Cox said. “And it’s a little bit more challenging in the winter time than, of course, on a beautiful day like this.”

Wyoming winters are a challenge for drivers, and Cox said the program has had to cancel services twice this year because of the snow and wind. This route is especially challenging during bad weather because it’s more rural than the other 40 routes drivers follow during the week. Cox said the distance can also leave meal recipients isolated from friends, family, and neighbors.

“So it’s somebody to check on them, as well as to bring them a good, nutritionist meal,” said Cox.

Cox said it’s his fellow drivers that keep him inspired.

“One of the drivers that drives 5 days week turned 91 last November, and he drives every day of the week,” said Cox.

Like many of the volunteers, Cox is retired. It’s not uncommon for volunteers to eventually become clients, and because Wyoming’s population is aging at a quicker rate than the rest of the country, the program may experience a shortage of volunteers in the future. Right now, Cox drives 5 days a week.

Judi Curkendall gets meals 5 times a week. After a severe bout of double pneumonia and the flu, Curkendall has had trouble with breathing and relies on an oxygen tube. She said she’s barely able to shuffle around the house. To a certain extent, she’s trapped inside her house. One time after getting out of the hospital, Cox found Curkendall after she had taken a fall when he came to drop off her lunch that day.

“I’m doing a lot better,” said Cox. “I’ll eat anything as long as it won’t bite back. Those damned dogs will eat anything!”

In addition to the time drivers volunteer to make daily deliveries, meals need to be prepped, cooked and boxed up. Natrona County Meals on Wheels Executive Director Jamie Loveall said that means early mornings for kitchen staff, so they can make sure the county’s homebound get a meal that day.

“So they come in at 6 o’clock and they start prepping their vegetables and stuff for the day, cook any meats they have,” said Loveall.  

Jamie Loveall, Executive Director for Natrona County Meals On Wheels.
Credit Maggie Mullen

Each day, Loveall said her organization delivers about 410 meals. She said recipients pay what they can. Sometimes, Loveall said, they pay 5 to 20 dollars a week. Other times, they can’t pay much or at all.

“When you’re faced with trying to pay your gas and lights and provide food for yourself, that’s when we’ll step in,” said Loveall. “That’s where we can come in and go hey we can help you do this if you can save your resources for the things that keep you comfortable in your homes.”

Loveall said Meals on Wheels is a one of a kind service in the area.

“Really we’re the only ones in Casper that provide home-delivered meals, other than Domino’s,” said Loveall. “We’re what you get.”

When it comes to their budget, Loveall said Natrona County Meals on Wheels depends on the federal government for about 20 percent of its funding, then the state for about 30 percent. The other 50 percent is from local grants and community donations. Loveall said if federal funding is pulled, they won’t necessarily be closing their doors.

“We’ve already cut back over the last couple of years,” said Loveall. “We’ve cut staff positions. Like I said, we’ve cut the way we feed our clients, but maybe instead of doing two meals a day, if they need it, just one, and then the last case scenario is going to the waiting list and just serve those in most in need. And if that’s what we have to do, that’s what we have to do.”

If cuts are made, Judi Curkendall might be one of those recipients that may not be the most in need. Her children live in town and help her around the house, but she said Meals on Wheels is crucial to living a healthy life.

“And if anybody in the government says it isn’t, they can come talk to me, cause I’m not afraid to tell anybody anything,” said Loveall. “Yeah, it’s worth a lot of a lot of people, it really is.”

President Trump’s proposed cuts to Meals on Wheels will ultimately be up to Congress to decide, and that process has a long road ahead.