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Meals programs for seniors and the disabled look for stable funding

SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - Efforts to provide meals to seniors and the disabled in Santa Barbara County are vital but funding can be hinged on federal grants,  state money, county budgeted support, fundraising or donations.

The service is essential to the food insecure, with growing numbers each year.

"We definitely need to look around the corner," said Supervisor Gregg Hart.  He was concerned about the "emerging needs" for these services either in a group setting or direct delivery.

Director of the Department of Social Services Daniel Nielson told the Board of Supervisors in December of 2020 during the pandemic $200,000 of county funds were allocated to assist the ongoing efforts where more home delivery was necessary and recipients were not out on their own getting food either at a store or community location.

A report to the Board of Supervisors updated the county on the nine meal providers, their funding, delivery services, and other aspects of the operations.

Many people who were confined during COVID-19,  could not go to congregate centers and relied on home meal deliveries.

Services providing food have varied levels of delivery dates and food items.  Some are hot meals, bagged meals or are refrigerated meals.

2,419 clients are being served each week.   

"These numbers vary from week to week," said Nielson.   

The cost for meal sometimes is covered and sometimes requires a portion of the payment per meal.

Groups that need additional funding beyond government help require fundraising.

Currently the county is providing $166,974 dollars to six programs.

Supervisors Steve Lavagnino said, the funding has not been a problem for the county.  "I want to make sure it is going to the right place and used wisely," he said.

Many of the programs have volunteer drivers and donated food which can skew the full picture of the operational costs.

The recipients have varied challenges.  Some have an inability to manage the food based on their refrigeration capacity, their ability to cook foods, and their ability to remember how to prepare the foods. Some also have special diets.  

"The regular interaction with the drivers delivering the meals," said Nielson is a benefit to the wellness of the recipients.   

Due to COVID, some programs shifted to delivering more meals at a time and fewer deliveries.  That lowered the personal contact.

Some programs shifted to dropping off meals on the porch instead of one-on-one contact.

The pandemic has clearly reshaped the services provided and also the plans going forward.

Many of the programs in operation prior to the pandemic have been able to adjust to the changes. However, there is uncertainty after the pandemic and after the federal public health emergency are unknown.

Currently there are no significant waiting lists or a gap in services.

Supervisor Bob Nelson asked how many people in each program need the safety net services, and what is the level of service the county provides that is humane. He agreed each group could grow its efforts from there.

Nelson was concerned about deliveries other than those from a volunteer, such as a mail delivery of food. 

The public contact has "a value there" in the way of wellness checks, said Nelson.

Going forward the county is developing a questionnaire for the service providers about what is necessary that can be address before that point is reached.

A set of questions about needs will be sent out in September with a report back to the Board of Supervisors after that for a more clear picture on funding needs.

(More details and video will be added here later today.)

Article Topic Follows: Health
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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT News Channel 3. To learn more about John, click here.

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