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Donations lag for Meals on Wheels provider as costs, client list expand

| Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013, 9:25 p.m.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Volunteer Claire Kist arrives at the home of John and Ann Curran of Green Tree with a Meals on Wheels delivery on Tuesday, October 1, 2013. The Meals on Wheels program in St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Carnegie serves more than 100 clients in the area.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Volunteer Kay Heidkamp packs meals for the day's deliveries on Tuesday, October 1, 2013, in St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Carnegie, The church's Meals on Wheels program serves more than 100 clients in the area.
Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review
Volunteer Claire Kist delivers a meal to John Curran of Green Tree on Tuesday, October 1, 2013. Curran and his wife, Ann, have been clients for about a year. The Meals on Wheels program in St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Carnegie serves more than 100 clients in the area.

After 62 years of marriage, John and Ann Curran have overcome their share of challenges.

About a year ago, the West End residents found they needed help with an important task — cooking.

“I can't stand in order to cook. I don't have the energy,” said Ann Curran, 85, who has emphysema. Her husband, who has congestive heart failure, can't walk on his own.

The Currans have received meal deliveries on weekdays from the Lutheran Service Society's Meals on Wheels program for about a year. But because donations haven't been keeping pace with new enrollments and clients' needs, the nonprofit might have to start a waiting list for the first time since the program began in 1969, said John Dickey, CEO of the society.

The group serves 800 clients, most of whom are at least 60 years old and homebound, in 140 communities. It is one of the largest Meals on Wheels providers in the state, Dickey said.

Lutheran Service requests donations of $5 a day for at least one hot meal and one snack daily per person, but those who can't pay still are served, Dickey said.

Over the past two years, Lutheran Service nearly tripled its spending to provide free meals to $1.5 million. The current year's budget is $3.9 million.

More clients who are dependent on Social Security and who don't have sufficient pension income are using the service. Rent and utility costs for using church kitchens are rising, Dickey said.

Cuts have been made. Four years ago, the nonprofit cooked hot meals and delivered them from 70 kitchens, mostly at churches, in four Pennsylvania counties and West Virginia.

Now, there are 15 kitchens — 10 in Allegheny County, two each in West Virginia and Beaver County and one in Mercer County.

“The consolidation is not affecting clients. But as we get to the rural areas, we may see an impact,” Dickey said.

Seven sites recently were consolidated, including one at a Lutheran church in Oakmont that merged into a kitchen at First United Methodist Church in McKeesport.

Lutheran Service trimmed staff hours and inventory and streamlined production. The group is trying to create more fundraisers, such as the Chefs Harvest Against Hunger event set for November.

Clients and corporate donors contribute about 72 percent of the total cost of providing meals, but the rest of the money must be raised from the public, Dickey said.

About 3,000 volunteers prepare and deliver meals.

Ann Curran said the Meals on Wheels service is “really nice. We appreciate everything they do.”

Robinson residents Don and Betty Baxter have volunteered with the group's Meals on Wheels kitchen at St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Carnegie for 15 years.

“I enjoy seeing a very nutritious meal given to these folks,” said Betty Baxter, 80, a retired nurse.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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