by Joshua Jerome
BARRE — There are many reasons why people commit to living their life in Vermont. Our picturesque countryside and outdoor amenities offer adventure and serenity while our small villages and towns provide opportunities for social capital creation. It’s a safe place to live, but no doubt an expensive place to live. According to United States Census data our population has had modest growth of three percent over the last 16 years with a small decline between 2010 and 2016. The proportion of our population made up of those 60 and older has increased from 16.7 percent in 2000 to 23.5 percent in 2015.
Simply put, there are more people who need care in some form because of functional limitations, health problems, economic restrictions and/or a lack of transportation. Food insecurity for this population is a problem and one of the services created to help with nutritional support is the Meals on Wheels program. The first home delivery meal service began in Philadelphia in 1954 and has grown nationally and serves millions of seniors.
The Central Vermont Council on Aging is one of five area agencies serving elders and their families by supporting 14 meal sites and the Meals on Wheels program. In Barre, The Galley, located in the Washington Apartments is one of the meal sites supported by the council. Operating five days a week, The Galley prepares meals for seniors who live in Barre, Washington, Williamstown, Orange and Berlin. Over 41,000 meals were prepared and delivered in 2016. That’s equivalent to feeding 13,666 people all of their nutrition for a whole year.
If you are 60 years of age and cannot meet basic nutritional needs, you can access the Meals on Wheels services. People with disabilities who are under 60 could qualify, but need to meet income thresholds. There’s a suggested donation of $3.50 for each meal for those who qualify and many do give back to the program. In fact, anybody can go to The Galley and purchase a meal for $5.50 between 4:30 p.m. through 6:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Not only is it the nutritional support seniors receive through their meals, but the personal touch and socialization that comes with the meals delivery.
For some seniors, the rural countryside was once cherished, but now elderly unable to make it into town, isolation is now a detriment to their health. According to Central Vermont’s Council on Aging’s, Kathy Paquet, the Meals on Wheels program is important as “we check on the well-being of our seniors most in need.” The budget sequester of 2013 cut the level of federal support the State of Vermont received by $200,000, but the state stepped in to shrink the gap. However, level funding over the last several years has put a strain on providers like The Galley and are increasingly looking at new sources of funds in order to maintain their commitment to every senior in need.
Bob Woodard, The Galley’s managing chef relies on two part-time employees and three drivers to deliver those 41,000 meals each year. Bob said that if they don’t come up with some new revenue sources that they “may have to start turning people away and I don’t want to do that.” Bob is being proactive in generating new revenue and is looking to resurrect the once popular spaghetti dinner held every year during the Barre Heritage Festival as a fundraiser. In addition, the commercial kitchen located in The Galley can be rented to food entrepreneurs at a reasonable $500 a month and has already seen one business, Maria’s Bagels, start and grow out of it onto Main Street.
As the baby boomer cohort continues to age and life expectancy remains high, additional resources will need to be identified to ensure all seniors receive the necessary nutritional support to maintain as high a quality of life as possible. Supporting services from The Galley and Central Vermont Council on Aging is paramount to reaching that goal, because some day you may depend on their services.
The author is executive director of The Barre Partnership.