By Carley Dangona
AGAWAM – After facing a budget shortfall for its Meals on Wheels (MOW) program, a $10,000 donation has ensured homebound seniors continued access to warm meals made from scratch.
The Friends of the Agawam Senior Center gave the money to support the nutrition program at the center. The gift was formally accepted by the City Council at its meeting on March 17.
“We wanted to help defray the cost of the MOW,” Emile Coté, member of the Friends, said. “There was a shortage and the center needed money to help pay for the program. If the need arise, we would help again. The Friends are here to help seniors [with] anything they need.”
Senior Center Executive Director Joan Linnehan said, “We receive funding for the staff, but not for the food. We were having trouble paying for our bill in December.”
To help offset the increasing cost of food, MOW prices were increased 50 cents and are now a suggested donation of $3 or $6 for a holiday meal. Linnehan estimated that an additional $11,000 would be generated for the program.
Carol Bernazki, manager and cook for the nutrition program, said, “This is the first time in I don’t know how long we’ve had to ask for donations. We got donations and we’re back in business. We’re not afraid to ask for help.”
Bernazki attributed the change to the fact that many residents are living longer lives, but remain on a fixed income despite the ever-increasing cost of living.
“This is the first time I’ve ever run into it,” Linnehan said of the funding shortage. She has served in her position for eight years. She explained that the winter weather has attributed to the increased need for MOW since many seniors cannot or will not venture out into the snow and ice.
Bernazki said that the center is allowed to cook from scratch and does not cater its meals from an outside company. The food is also required to meet the state’s nutritional guidelines.
She explained that MOW delivery drivers don’t just drop the food on the doorstep and leave. They are responsible for checking on the patrons’ well-being, which includes making sure the refrigerator is not empty as well as observing whether the person is physically well. For many seniors, this is the only visitor who ventures into their home.
Linnehan stated the center serves 160 to 170 housebound seniors and 80 to 150 seniors in its dining room each day.
The center welcomes donations in the form of monetary or creative ideas as to how it can better serve the nutritional needs of the town’s senior population. Checks should be made payable to the Friends of the Agawam Senior Center and sent to: The Friends of the Agawam Senior Center, 954 Main St., Agawam, MA 01001.
On March 31, E.B.’s Restaurant, 385 Walnut St. Ext., will donate 10 percent of that day’s total food sales to the Friends. For more information, visit www.ebsrestaurants.com