Funding lags demand for Bangor-area meal delivery program

By Kathleen O’Brien, Bangor Daily News Staff

The group that runs Greater Bangor’s meal delivery program for older residents is working hard to overcome a roughly $126,000 funding gap due to receding federal funding, rising food prices and increased demand.

The Meals on Wheels programs run by the Brewer-based Eastern Area Agency on Aging normally delivers meals to more than 600 older adults who are unable to leave their homes and cannot cook for themselves.  

But it’s gotten harder to do that lately, due to climbing food prices and government funding that has stalled due to the expiration of pandemic-era funding. Meanwhile, demand for the resource has grown, forcing the organization to start a Meals on Wheels waitlist for the first time. 

The agency went from serving 68,000 meals in 2017 to roughly 188,900 meals in 2020 when COVID-19 hit Maine, according to Christopher Hill, spokesperson for the Eastern Area Agency on Aging. In 2023, the organization delivered 250,854 meals to 711 people enrolled in the program. 

All of those factors combined to bring new urgency to the agency’s Save the Lunch fundraiser for Meals on Wheels. Versant Power donated $10,000 to the campaign last week, bringing its fundraising total to $14,637, according to Hill.

Today, 640 people from Penobscot, Piscataquis, Washington, and Hancock counties are enrolled in the Meals on Wheels service, but 120 people sit on a waitlist to receive help. 

Federal funding supported about 72 percent of the organization’s $2.5 million budget in the last fiscal year, according to Hill. However, federal funding dropped to carry only 45 percent of the agency’s $2.3 million budget in fiscal year 2024.

The lapse in federal funding comes from a one percent dip in financial support from Congress’ Older American Act this upcoming budget year, which supports services for seniors, including nutrition programs. 

“While one percent doesn’t seem like a significant decrease, every dollar counts when we have individuals on a waiting list to receive these much-needed services,” Hill said. 

Meanwhile, the agency’s food costs rose by about 10 percent in recent months due to inflation, which threatens the number of adults the organization can serve, Hill said. 

In addition to fighting food insecurity and keeping people healthy, volunteers who deliver the meals provide a social outlet for many older adults who aren’t able to leave their home. Drivers also look out for recipients’ health, and can report any issues they spot with their wellbeing or living environment, according to Meals on Wheels America.

Maine is also the state with the highest median age, and roughly 30 percent of the state’s population is 60 or older, making the need for delivery programs especially pressing and growing, according to Meals on Wheels America. 

Additionally, about 10 percent of older adults in Maine sit below the poverty line and 11 percent qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, which help low-income Mainers purchase healthy food. 

Nationwide, local Meals on Wheels services delivered 251 million meals to 2.2 million people in 2023, according to Meals on Wheels America.

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