As we all have heard, the country is in a recession which is leading to everyone cutting expenses including state government. Here in Oklahoma budget cuts are affecting a senior nutrition program which provides free meals once a day Monday through Friday to people ages 60 and older. The meals are delivered by volunteers to homebound seniors while those that can get out meet at their local senior citizen center. Because of the cutbacks, this week many seniors across the state will not receive any meals or they will lose at least one meal a week.
Here in north central Oklahoma, the Whearheart Nutrition Program has been searching for ways to guarantee no senior will go hungry. The board voted in late October to stop serving meals on Fridays but continue to deliver food to the homebound even if it is a sack lunch. Nov. 6 was to be the first Friday of no food for some but thanks to the Osage Million Dollar Elm Casino, seniors in Ponca City will continue to eat.
Oklahoma Rep. Ken Luttrell broke the good news today at the senior center. He was joined by Chris White, general manager of the casino. "Because of the lack of action at the state capital, I have taken an aggressive approach to this situation," said Luttrell. "This issue touches my heart and I'm excited to say that the Osage Casino has agreed to sponsor meals on Fridays for the next 10 weeks." White told the crowd that he grew up respecting his elders.
"I'm glad that we are able to help," he said. "We can do this because of our casino guests. So we are fortunate that we can give back to the community." Seniors cheered after hearing the news. Now for some background on the issue. The saga began when Oklahoma Department of Human Services Director Howard H. Hendrick agreed to cut the state's nutrition program budget by $7.4 million with no input from legislators. Money for the food program is given to DHS by legislators.
Sen. David Myers explained that legislators made a special effort to keep the program level in the midst of all the cuts. "He ignored this request," said Myers. "We do not have any control over these agencies. Once we give them the money it is out of our control. However, if we do not like the way they handle the money, they might not get it again next year. We can get even," said Myers. The news of the cuts made its way to the program's workers and slotoff.com seniors. In Kay County the Blackwell location is the central kitchen.
Site Manager Vonda Cross said food for at least 400 senior citizens is prepared at the site by paid workers and then delivered by volunteers. Cross explained that the program not only provides food for the seniors but also a social time and a visitor for some. "For some, our volunteer is the only person the senior sees everyday," she said. Soon after the budget cut announcement , a group of legislatures met with Hendrick to discuss options.
Later that day Myers reported that DHS made the cuts because of regulations in place. "He wants the legislature to appropriate extra money to pay for this and we do not have the extra money," said Myers. "Plus if we could appropriate the extra money, we have no guarantee the money would go to the program. It could go anywhere." Myers said DHS has other programs that could be cut but Hendrick believed the nutrition program would be the least painful.
After all of this, i took to the road and headed to Tonkawa, Oklahoma to get the opinions of seniors who depend on this program. There I found several people that had no fear of talking to the media. "This is absolutely wrong," said Arlene Thomas. "This is the only balanced meal some of us get everyday." Gladys Kreger Simmons agreed with Thomas and added that meal time is special. "If this program disappears it will send a lot of people to the nursing homes.
Plus we would miss seeing each other everyday." Loretta Smith said she would worry about the seniors who have meals delivered. "I would worry about the folks at home," she said. "For some that is their only visitor and only good meal everyday." Glenn Craft said he wouldn't mind the program taking the cut if the cuts were across the board. Jolene Harrison pointed out that not all seniors can cook for themselves and losing this one meal a day would be disastrous for some.