DARLINGTON — The Seniors United for Nutrition program held a volunteer appreciation event Sept. 19.
The day was full of fun with bingo, entertainment and a guest speaker as well as a program dedicated to appreciating the volunteers that help the SUN program continue.
The SUN program, which provides meals to senior citizens in both Lafayette and Iowa counties at meal sites and through delivery, has been seeing a steadily decreasing amount of funding however, which will result in upcoming changes for the program.
This year the decreasing funding may start to show a real impact with the possible closing of several meal sites and some extreme changes that need to be made in order to cut costs in the upcoming budget process.
When Cecile McManus, executive director of the program, presented her initial budget numbers to the board of directors at their meeting Sept. 19 she said, “This is very preliminary, but it’s going to get worse.”
Included in the budget presented were several major changes for the program including the possible closing of the congregate meal sites in Mineral Point, Rewey and South Wayne. Public meetings have been scheduled for each site that has been proposed to close. The meetings will take place at each meal site, in Rewey at the village hall/fire station Tuesday, Oct. 8 at 11 a.m.
Other changes could also end up taking place in other sites throughout the two counties in order to try and cut costs as well.
McManus said total donations have also been down lately. “Our average donation per person is the same and actually quite good according to the state,” she said. “The people who use the service give very well and appreciate it. But the numbers of total meals and people utilizing them have just been going down.”
On the federal funding side of things McManus pointed out that last year saw a big drop from 2012 to 2013, a result of the changing demographics of 2010. The state ended up issuing an amendment that covered the sequester, but this year they will not be doing so.
This will result in a difference of about $34,000 from 2013 to 2014. The program then asked for an additional $23,000, with $13,000 coming from Lafayette County and $10,000 coming from Iowa County (these numbers were determined by usage of the program by each county).
The difference of $11,000 would be made up by the SUN program by cutting expenses. However Lafayette County has offered just $5,000 of the requested $13,000 total, after several meetings between the program and the county board. At this point it is not known how much of the requested amount will be given from Iowa County.
This means that even more money will need to be made up in expense cuts in the program, which has already been looking at several major cuts.
Things are starting to look a bit grim for the program. “I’m all for doing all we can to meet seniors needs, but if we don’t have the dollars to feed them, what do we do?” asked board chairman Ron Benish at the meeting.
McManus said she believes there will be a growth towards more home deliveries and perhaps a move toward a more updated and changed version of the congregate sites.
“I’m hopeful for the future,” said McManus. “But right now it’s just a real struggle.”
McManus was adamant, however, that SUN will continue to have a program for home delivery. “We would not just cut people off who are receiving meals,” she said. “We would make accommodations.”
The SUN program provides socialization for many seniors through the congregate meal sites located throughout Lafayette and Iowa counties, which McManus points out has been shown to have a positive effect on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
“We’ve had an Upland Hills nurse tell us that people who visit family members say they can’t believe how well they’re eating, as opposed to how they used to,” said McManus. “It’s because they’re around people and it’s good food and it’s being served to them. They just eat so much better.
“I think there will always be a need for us and what we do. Everyone that works in our program really cares about the seniors and they’re all hopeful to see it keep going and prosper and help everyone who needs us.”
There is also a fundraiser coming up for the month of October to benefit the SUN program. It is called the Thrive and Shine program and is a partnership between Thrivent Financial and the SUN program.
Labeled milk jugs will be placed in local churches and businesses to collect spare change and donations from anyone wishing to support the SUN program and their local meal sites.
The Lafayette and Iowa County chapter board of Thrivent Financial will also be providing supplemental funds to the SUN program through this partnership.