Meals on Wheels of Contra Costa launched an urgent appeal for more donations Tuesday, saying that a funding shortage could force it to drop 200 people from its roster of 1,200 seniors receiving home-delivered meals.
The Martinez-based nonprofit group currently uses 800 volunteers per year to deliver one nutritious meal each day to 1,200 homebound, low-income elderly people throughout Contra Costa County, according to program director Paul Kraintz.
Kraintz said the organization has been struggling with budget problems for several reasons including reduced donations and increased need stemming from the recent recession.
But he said a crucial blow has been the loss of $100,000 in funding as a result of the federal budget sequestration.
"The sequestration was a bridge way too far," he said.
"We're always struggling with increased need for services and not enough revenue, but when the federal government hit us for $100,000, it made it so we had to act differently," he said.
Kraintz said the program has an annual budget of $3.5 million. About 60 percent of that comes from donations from individuals and foundations and contributions from the seniors, who pay on a sliding scale ranging from zero to $5 for the meals.
The other 40 percent comes from state, local and federal governments. Until recently, that included $500,000 per year from the senior nutrition program of the federal Administration for Community Living, formerly known as the Administration of Aging.
Sequestration will reduce that amount by $100,000, Kraintz said.
"We're pedaling as fast as we can to try to find new funding," he said.
People who would like to donate to the program may mail a contribution to Meals on Wheels of Contra Costa, PO Box 3195, Martinez, CA 94553, or donate via the group's website.
Kraintz said the program is important for both nutrition and social contact for frail seniors.
"For most of the seniors we serve, we are their only source of receiving a daily nutritious meal, and frequently, the volunteer is the only contact for many of our housebound elders," he said.
"Our volunteers are really looking in on this person to make sure the person is OK," he said.
Kraintz said the last-ditch option of dropping 200 seniors from the number served would solve only part of the funding problem.
For the moment, he said, the organization is relying on attrition of seniors in the program in order to reduce number of clients.
It is taking on new clients "only if their situation is absolutely desperate," but is no longer signing up "people who would fare better with the meals but who would still get by if not added" to the list, he said.
But "how deep we have to cut depends on what the response is" to the new funding appeal, Kraintz said.