MURRAY – In the best of times, the Murray-Calloway County Senior Citizens Center’s Meals on Wheels program supplies nearly 100 people with meals at home. Since the beginning of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the program has had to increase its clientele by 78%, and Senior Center Executive Director Mark McLemore said that wouldn’t have been possible without financial support from the community.
The Senior Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with no direct government affiliation, and 60% of the center’s funding has historically come from state and federal grants through the Department of Aging and Independent Living, McLemore said. On March 13, the center had to close due to state orders connected with the pandemic. Since the center couldn’t welcome anyone into its facilities at the George Weaks Community Center on Poplar Street, McLemore said much of its grant funding was off the table.
“On March 13, when we had to close our doors to the seniors, we lost all the grant funds we would have received from the congregate meals that we did in the dining room; those stopped immediately,” McLemore said. “We also lost all of the funding we would get for the exercise and health promotion opportunities. I could not bill the Department of Aging for those units that we weren’t getting.”
With no opportunity for seniors to come eat in person, the demand for Meals on Wheels service immediately grew. McLemore said that although the center still had funding for that service, the demand was more than they could have handled on their own. McLemore said an article that ran in the Ledger & Times on April 8 made more of the public aware of the problems the center was facing in providing meals for seniors.
“We literally lost about 70 percent of our grant funding when we locked the doors, and it really put us in a tough financial situation,” he said. “The outpouring that we received over the last six or seven weeks since we’ve been in this situation has been phenomenal. We’ve had over 100 individuals and businesses in this community that have supported us in the ministry we’re doing, with donations ranging from $25 up to $6,000. That outpouring from the community has been a blessing for us.”
McLemore said that before the pandemic, the local Meals on Wheels had 93 clients. That number quickly grew to 165, and he said the program is now operating close to maximum capacity. McLemore said the Department of Aging and Independent Living eventually was able to come up with some additional coronavirus funding, but the community donations were critical in keeping the meals coming in the first four to five weeks of the senior center shutdown.
“The outpouring from community individuals and businesses that reached out and supported us with their generous donations just means the world to us,” McLemore said. “That allowed us to continue to function, and now we’re to the point where we had to add an additional vehicle into our Meals on Wheels fleet to support the expanded number of meals. It was four vehicles in service and now we have a fifth route that’s been established because we are serving Murray and Calloway Countians from one end of the county to the other – from Dexter to Hazel and from Panorama Shores to west of Lynn Grove.”
McLemore said all this is being done primarily with part-time personnel, to whom he is extremely thankful.
“We’re doing it primarily with part-time personnel, who have gotten out of their homes and come every day to work to support us,” he said. “It’s amazing how these folks have committed themselves to remaining healthy and isolating themselves and sacrificing their personal health and well-being to come and continue to serve.”