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Senior meals service providers lobby Garfield County commissioners for funding equity

Valley Meals and More volunteer Candace Goodwin loads up boxed lunches from Honey Butter in Carbondale to be delivered to seniors on Tuesday afternoon.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

A popular Carbondale-area service that got its start during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic providing home-delivered meals to senior citizens who were in need may be ending if supplemental funding doesn’t materialize by year’s end.

Mary Kenyon began Valley Meals and More as a way to serve local seniors who were shut in when Colorado went into lockdown in spring 2020.

Since then, the program has found a niche and filled a void in senior meal services for the eastern part of the county.



But that could be coming to an end if Garfield County, or a combination of funding entities, can’t come up with the $85,000 needed to cover the cost of the meals for next year.

Without that funding, Valley Meals plans to end its home meal deliveries to 120 older adults in Carbondale and the surrounding area on Dec. 31, Kenyon said during a work session with county commissioners on Tuesday.



“We’re not asking you to fund the entire program,” Kenyon said, noting the program’s $231,000 total cost is supported by several grants and donations.

Some of that funding has come from COVID-19 emergency funds distributed through local governments. Other major grants have come from the Colorado Area Agency on Aging (AAA), for $60,000, two different grants via the Aspen Community Foundation, totaling $30,000, a Next Fifty grant for $25,000, plus several other grants and local business and individual donations ranging from $1,500 to $19,000.

To continue the effort, Kenyon said she envisions a three-tiered funding approach, including upping the ask from the AAA to $124,000, relying on continued grants and private donations to cover $101,000, and $85,000 from Garfield County.

“We applaud what the county has done with its support of the congregate meals program,” Kenyon said of the county’s funding support for senior meals sites in all six of the county’s municipalities, which also converted to home deliveries during the pandemic.

“But it’s a new day,” she said, adding there should be more equity in how the various senior meals services in the county are funded.

Currently, a combination of home-delivered meals and congregant meal programs for senior citizens are offered by multiple organizations.

Grand River Health in Rifle operates the successful Meals on Wheels program for the area from New Castle to Parachute, which does not rely on funding from the county government.

Garfield County Human Services, through its senior programs, runs the congregate meal sites at different locations across the county on different days. The county-funded senior nutrition services account for about $386,000 per year.

While the county program includes one weekly meal in Carbondale, Kenyon said it’s important to provide a senior meal service five days a week, as her program does.

One other smaller home-delivery meals program is offered through Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs. But it is limited to homebound seniors referred by medical providers. That program now services about 15 individuals in Glenwood Springs.

Valley View is also looking to pass that program to another coordinator after this year, and is willing to offer $10,000 in funding support for whoever takes it over, said Katie Ledall, volunteer coordinator for Valley View, who also participated in Tuesday’s discussion.

Much of the work session discussion revolved around the unique benefits of the congregate meal sites and home deliveries.

The meal sites, at least pre-pandemic, typically offer additional social activities besides the meal, such as exercise time or entertainment.

For now, the meals are still being delivered to homes, but the plan is to return to the congregate meal sites after the first of the year, said Sharon Longhurst-Pritt, Human Services director for Garfield County.

In addition to county funding, support for that program also comes from AAA and other outside sources, she explained.

Cold meals are currently prepared at the kitchen at Sunlight Mountain Resort and brought to Glenwood Springs to distribute, primarily at the three senior housing locations in town, Sunnyside and Manors I and II, she said.

Grand River’s Meals on Wheels, for its part, relies heavily on volunteers, same as Valley Meals and More, to deliver its hot meals to people’s homes. It currently serves a little over 100 clients, and operates on a budget of $236,500.

It also relies on AAA funding and other outside grants, but the tax-supported hospital district does make up some of the difference, said Kaaren Peck, who runs the Meals on Wheels program for Grand River.

“I do think that the (east) side of the county needs something,” Peck said during the Tuesday discussion. “As our county ages, the ask is out there, and it’s getting bigger and bigger.”

Added Kenyon, “The outcome we’re looking for is that older adults all across the county have access to meals.”

Kenyon said she is also applying for new state grant funding that recently became available to establish a commercial kitchen in Carbondale to run the program, instead of relying on a rotation of restaurants, which is now the case.

County commissioners did not make any decisions at the work session regarding the funding request, but scheduled a followup “roundtable” meeting to come up with a recommendation at 10 a.m. Nov. 19. A formal decision is expected at the commissioners’ regular meeting on Nov. 22.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.


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