In Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, more than 2000 people receive seven meals a week from Meals on Wheels -- and that's not nearly enough to fill the need.
Right now, about 500 remain on a waiting list to receive these meals.
Despite an additional funding pledge from the Nevada Legislature in 2017, the question remains how long federal funds will continue to roll in - since President Donald Trump's budget proposes up to 18 percent cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services.
Catholic Charities is the local organization that carries out Meals on Wheels. Deacon Tom Roberts is the CEO of Catholic Charities.
“I think our program is unique in that the population of Southern Nevada has grown and certainly we know that this is a popular destination for seniors," he said.
Roberts said there are three aspects to the Meals on Wheels program that need to be funded. The first is the food and its preparation. The second is case management and the third is the capital budget for things like kitchen equipment, trucks, and freezers.
He said the pledge of $3.4 million from the state helped get people off the waiting list but there are still people who call to ask about the program and then hang up when they hear about the waiting list.
And because there is a waiting list, the list is prioritized, which means a case manager must go to the senior's home to assess whether they should be put ahead of someone else based on need.
“Sadly, because we have a waiting list, we have to evaluate those that have the greatest needs,” he said.
Roberts said it is a heartbreaking choice for case managers to make.
To avoid that kind of prioritizing, he said the program needs another $3 to $4 million dollars in steady funding. At that level, Roberts said the state would "almost effectively eliminate senior hunger."
While it sounds like a lot of money, Roberts points out it is only $6 a meal to feed people through the program, which is much more cost effective than the alternative of putting people in assisted-living facilities or worse having seniors end up on the street.
And the program provides more than just nutritiously balanced meals for seniors, it is also a chance for case managers and drivers to check on them.
Roberts said the drivers bring the food directly into the client's home, which gives them a chance to see if they are okay, see if anything has changed from hygiene to home cleanliness or if the client is struggling with memory or incontinence.
“They are so grateful for the food and so grateful for the company. Sometimes that driver is the only visit that they get from a human being,” he said.
If something is amiss, then the driver can talk to the case manager to ask about other services the client might need.
When Roberts first started as CEO of Catholic Charities he rode along with the drivers to talk to clients. He said he found several clients had put their plates on the floor. When he asked why, the clients told him that they were sharing their food with their pet.
He said they couldn't afford pet food but they didn't want to give up their pet because that was often their only companion.
Catholic Charities now provides donated pet food to seniors who have a dog or cat but can't afford the food.
“There are a lot of beautiful, wonderful things that this program does, in addition to the wonderful food,” he said.
But those types of services could be severely limited if funding for the program is cut. On the federal level, grants provide a little more than half of the cost of meals but if cuts once purposed by the Trump Administration go through Roberts said it would be "catastrophic."
“If the government can provide food security to our most vulnerable, then I think we’re missing something,” he said.
Deacon Tom Roberts, CEO, Catholic Charities
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