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Meal program for homebound seniors hopes to avoid budget chopping block

News4Jax hosts phone bank to collect Meals on Wheels donations

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A program that provides meals and safety checks to homebound seniors in Northeast Florida could hit a roadblock if its federal grant money is cut from the budget, as President Donald Trump has proposed.

Under the budget proposal, community development programs like the Older Americans Act will take a hit, which is where Meals on Wheels gets the funding to help cover its $540,000 operating costs.

Those operating costs keep staff drivers like Andrew Shepherd and scores of volunteers rolling as they deliver packages to homebound seniors every weekday that include a meal, the daily newspaper and dessert.

"The first thing you feel is compassion and empathy,” Shepherd said.

The visits also provide a safety check and social interaction for homebound seniors who are disabled and have low incomes.

For Francis Wyman, 64, the meal deliveries are about a sense of independence.

"They give you a lot of respect,” she said.

Wyman was shot nearly 20 years ago and can't stand for long periods of time to cook, so she depends on Meals on Wheels for a nutritious lunch.

About 600 meals are handmade in the Meals on Wheels kitchen every weekday. They're prepped, packed and put on a truck, which is driven by a volunteer who delivers the meal to the senior's front door.

A new White House proposal for budget cuts could put the Meals on Wheels program on the chopping block, and that has people like Wyman concerned about the future of the program.

“It would probably be a disaster for some elderly people, because some can't walk at all,” Wyman said. “A lot of them don't have families to bring them food."

For now, the wheels will keep rolling.

"It's tough to imagine that people will have less support to fill the gap in their life,” Shepherd said.

Directors at Aging True, the organization that runs Meals on Wheels, said they are meeting with elected officials to talk about the importance of the program and will continue to lobby for more funding.

News4Jax hosted a phone bank Tuesday night, and $5,710 was raised for Aging True's Meals on Wheels program. Anyone wishing to donate can still do so by visiting the Aging True website.