By JOE SUTTER
Increasing costs will require changes to the Congregate Meals program at Citizens Central, provided through Fort Dodge's Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department.
"If we continued on this pace without making some changes, both fundamentally and how we serve, we would run out of money by maybe March, April," Parks and Recreation Director Lori Branderhorst said at its meeting Wednesday.
At the same time, she said, the city is teaming up with other agencies to figure out how to make the Meals on Wheels program sustainable after the former provider, North Central Home Care, closed last month.
Congregate Meals are provided by Best Western Starlite Village Inn & Suites, by contract. Branderhorst said the cost is going to increase from $3.82 to $5.77 per meal.
"We have a contract with Elderbridge (Agency on Aging) that funds congregate meals," Branderhorst said.
The meals are provided at noon five days a week, for an annual fee of $32 or a daily fee of $2 for those age 55 and older according to the Citizens Central website.
The city is now on a month-by-month contract with Starlite, as officials seek a way to keep the program sustainable.
"We're collecting some data and trying to offer some other alternatives for both Starlite, and hopefully finding a new vendor that can be competitive," she said.
The program may have to switch to only offering three meals a week, or perhaps only serving on the first 15 days of the month, she said.
However, the immediate goal is to go forward with five meals a week.
"For right now with the Congregate Meals, it is meals as usual," Branderhorst said.
Meals on Wheels is currently being run through a collaboration of several agencies, she said, including Elderbridge, Citizens Central, the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way, and Webster County Public Health.
"That food is prepared and sent to our site, our director Kim (Wolfe) is dishing out into the boxes, then the Public Health Department is delivering the meals," Branderhorst said.
"The Community Foundation is stepping up and trying to bridge this lack of funding," she added.
The foundation is preparing a business plan to keep the program funded through July, while long-term sustainable solutions are sought.
"This Nov. 18, we have another meeting with Elderbridge in collecting some data, and seeing how the grant is going to go," she said.
"We as a community need to make sure this stays funded and the needs are met."