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Originally published December 7, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 7, 2006 at 3:08 PM

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Fund For The Needy

Meal program for seniors may have to scale back

Married for five decades and in the twilight of their lives, Billy Ault, 75, and his wife, Nadean, 72, were looking forward to a slower...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Married for five decades and in the twilight of their lives, Billy Ault, 75, and his wife, Nadean, 72, were looking forward to a slower pace.

Instead, in the past few years, life has dealt them a different hand: A degenerative disease has left Billy blind, then Nadean suffered a stroke.

Three summers ago, while Nadean Ault was bedridden, the couple realized they couldn't get to the grocery store or cook much anymore. So the couple turned to Meals on Wheels to deliver food to their Federal Way home to ease their burden.

"It has made a big difference," Billy Ault said, "because I can't drive anymore."

For 32 years, Meals on Wheels, a program run by Senior Services of Seattle/King County, has fed thousands of disabled seniors such as the Aults, delivering frozen breakfast, lunch or dinner to their doors, usually once a week.

The nonprofit serves 473,000 meals annually and is known to never turn seniors away.

But that streak may come to an end.

Agencies served by Fund for the Needy


The Salvation Army

Senior Services

Childhaven

Hopelink

Family Services

Atlantic Street Center

Youth Eastside Services

Treehouse

Asian Counseling & Referral Service

Kindering Center

Big Brothers Big Sisters

ASTAR (Autism Spectrum Treatment and Research) Center

Next year, Meals on Wheels may wait-list seniors or cut down on the number of meals they deliver because the organization's budget can no longer keep pace with the high cost of gas and a growing senior population, administrators said.

"We are at a critical point this year," said Judy Ruehlmann, program manager for Meals on Wheels. "We might do some additional fundraising because we don't want to start a waiting list.

"And we want to continue serving up to two meals a day because one meal a day is not sufficient."

The fiscal challenges here are similar to what many of the more than 4,500 Meals on Wheels programs face nationwide. The Virginia-based Meals on Wheels Association of America reports that at least four out of 10 Meals on Wheels programs have waiting lists and some are in danger of going bankrupt.

Although the program suggests recipients pay a $3 donation per meal, the Seattle nonprofit subsidizes most food because many seniors can't afford to pay, officials said.

The program's $1.7 million annual budget comes from federal funds, charitable donations and meal revenues. But in the past few years, the level of federal money has not kept pace with demand, officials said. For instance, the program now serves about 40,000 more meals annually than it did in 2000.

Senior Services of Seattle/King County


The state's largest nonprofit social-services agency for the elderly, Senior Services helped about 55,000 people in King County last year. Among the dozen programs run by Senior Services is Meals on Wheels, which delivered 473,000 breakfast and dinner entrees to about 2,600 disabled and poor seniors last year.

To qualify for meal delivery, a client must be at least 60 years old and homebound because of a disability or illness. Often, the meal-delivery drivers are the seniors' only link to life beyond their doorsteps, officials said.

Shirley Mikel of Federal Way, a volunteer driver for Meals on Wheels, befriended a 94-year-old client who was estranged from her grandchildren. About 1 ½ years ago, Mikel was the only one who visited her at the hospital and was there when she died.

"Many of them are lonely, and sometimes, we are the only people they see for a long period of time," Mikel said.

Three years ago, a friend put Nadean Ault in touch with Meals on Wheels, which now delivers complete dinners nearly every other week.

Although she has recovered from her stroke, Nadean Ault is bedridden again after knee-replacement surgery.

"It has taken a lot of stress off from me and my husband," she said of the meals. "And we also eat a lot healthier that what we were eating. It's been a blessing."

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or tvinh@seattletimes.com

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