County meal delivery caught by restrictions

Saturday, February 1, 2003

A plan to have Cape County Transit Authority vans deliver meals to elderly shut-ins starting July 1 remains on the drawing board, but the executive director of the transit service says state and federal funding restrictions make it unlikely.

"If the Missouri Department of Transportation won't allow us to do it, then we just can't do it," said Jeff Brune, executive director of the Jackson-based transit service.

The Cape Girardeau County Senior Citizens Services Fund Board proposed taking delivery of the meals away from the Cape Girardeau and Jackson senior centers and putting it in the hands of the transit authority.

The board included the proposal in its tax-funding recommendations approved by the county commission in December.

Brune said the transit authority's 10 vans are 80 percent owned by the Federal Transit Administration and MoDOT. The transit authority owns 20 percent of each vehicle.

Under the funding requirements, the transit authority must devote at least 80 percent of its time to transporting people, Brune said.

"I went through the numbers," he said. "We would have been using our vehicles for meals 33 percent of the time, which MoDOT said was unacceptable."

Brune said the local transit service would have to buy a separate fleet of vans if it wanted to deliver meals and still meet funding restrictions. But he said that wouldn't be economical.

"We don't want to spend $150,000 to make $70,000," he said.

Board approval

Even if the transit authority were to agree to provide the service, it won't happen without the approval of the boards of the Cape Girardeau and Jackson senior centers, county officials have said.

Dale Rauh serves on the five-member transit authority board of directors and chairs the seven-member senior citizens board.

Rauh said he's not ready to abandon the idea, which he said has the backing of county commissioners.

"We need to talk it over with both boards to make a final decision on this," Rauh said Friday.

The transit authority board meets Monday at noon at the transit office in Jackson and the senior citizens board may meet later in the week, he said.

The directors of the two centers say they and their boards have received no written proposals, and most of what they know about the plan comes from news stories.

"We are sitting here totally in the dark," said Susan McClanahan, who directs the Cape Girardeau Senior Center.

Debbie Stockton, administrator of the Jackson Senior Center, agreed.

Both McClanahan and Stockton said the plan wouldn't benefit their senior centers, which combined serve nearly 200 homebound residents a day, Monday through Friday.

The centers, they said, still would have to cook the meals and line up volunteers who would ride in the vans and actually take the meals into the homes and apartments.

McClanahan said the delivery of noon meals to shut-ins Monday through Friday provides the elderly with more than food. It also offers an opportunity to check on individuals who are living alone.

Last week, the delivery of food led to the discovery that an elderly woman was living in a house with a broken furnace. "She was freezing to death," McClanahan said.

McClanahan said she contacted a relative of the woman and arranged for the furnace to be repaired.

She worries that such emergency help might disappear if the transit authority were in charge.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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