HUNTINGTON — Cabell County commissioners gave their blessing Thursday to a program that aims to feed senior citizens dealing with state budget cuts to the Meals on Wheels program.
During a regular meeting, commissioners unanimously agreed to give $100,000 from the county’s Senior Excess Levy to the Facing Hunger Foodbank. Of that, $85,000 will fund an expanded program providing meals to seniors experiencing food insecurities in Cabell County. An additional $15,000 will purchase fruits and vegetables for seniors who don’t have access to nutritious foods.
Facing Hunger Foodbank currently partners with the Cabell County Senior Services Organization to provide seniors with meals for the 16 weeks of summer, said Cynthia Kirkhart, executive director. However, food bank officials discovered there is a greater need for that program after the state made budget cuts to the Meals on Wheels program, which serves about 126 people in the county. Due to those cuts, Meals on Wheels cannot provide meals to seniors on the weekends.
“(Seniors) are put in a position on Friday of starting to throttle back in terms of their consumption of the foods they have in the house so they will have something to eat over the weekend,” Kirkhart said.
With funding from the commission, Facing Hunger Foodbank will be able to provide meals year-round, she said. Some of those meals will be home delivered and others will be served at central locations like at senior centers and at senior high-rises.
The organization will be able to go from serving meals to 475 people currently registered in the program to all 2,152 seniors in Cabell County who live below the federal poverty level, she said. Facing Hunger Foodbank will partner with health care providers to provide free screenings and with religious organizations to help distribute meals. Their employees also will give seniors nutritional information and provide cooking lessons for foods they might not normally try, she said.
All meals served will be tailored to each individual person based on food allergies and other dietary restrictions, she said.
Before approving the funding, commissioners questioned Kirkhart on how she intends to sustain the program after its initial year. Commission President Nancy Cartmill said the commission could not reasonably fund $100,000 each year because the Senior Excess Levy takes in about $200,000 a year. There’s currently about $600,000 in the fund account to grant, which was accumulated over 20 years.
Kirkhart said she intends to apply for grants in addition to a $300,000 grant the food bank recently received from the Pallottine Foundation. The senior citizen age range is particularly attractive to grant providers, and Kirkhart said she believes she can secure long-term funding elsewhere.
“Sometimes you have to build something in order to get support from the outside community,” she said. “You have to show that you do have the resources and the infrastructure to continue to receive funds or to attract new funds.”
The program will fully kick off once the funds are received from the county, Kirkhart said. The meals will be prepared by the Cabell County Senior Services Organization.
Also during Thursday’s meeting, commissioners agreed to hire two additional home confinement officers at the Cabell County Sheriff’s Office. That brings the total number of home confinement officers to 12.
Additional officers are needed as the county continues to increase its home confinement efforts to help lower the burden of the regional jail bill, said Sheriff Chuck Zerkle.
As of Thursday, 165 people are on home confinement and that number was expected to rise to 200 in the coming months, he said. About 100 people were on home confinement when Zerkle took office two years ago.
The county uses technology that establishes perimeters around a person’s home or workplace, and its officers are the only county in the state who monitor those zones 24 hours a day.
“Our guys are trained. We have the best equipment. We just need help,” Zerkle said. “We’re getting to the point where I worry that something’s going to happen and we don’t have enough people.”
Officers Nicholas Neal and Brandon Haas are already certified to begin working and will each make annual salaries of $32,500.