For years, three groups -- the Cape Girardeau and Jackson senior centers and Southeast Missouri Hospital -- have provided a valuable and much-needed service. Each day, they prepare and deliver about 280 meals to the area's elderly shut-ins. Many recipients of these meals say it's their only hot meal of the day. And the volunteers who deliver the meals also provide social contact and help keep an eye on the well-being the homebound individuals they visit.
Obviously, it's an important task.
As a part of the Cape Girardeau County budgeting process for revenue generated by a special tax for senior services, a question has come up about who should deliver the meals for the senior centers: the volunteers who have done it for years, or Cape County Transit, the county's public transportation system. (The hospital-based program does not receive any of the tax funding.)
Volunteers for the senior centers have provided an invaluable service over the years, but the centers' administrators say there aren't always enough volunteers.
The 2003 budget for the senior-services tax revenue proposes shifting some of the tax dollars now going to the senior center to Cape County Transit to deliver the meals that the centers would continue to prepare.
Is that the best solution? Not necessarily.
Consider the cost. The county's seven-member Senior Citizens Services Fund board has recommended that Cape County Transit get $79,518 if it takes over the delivery of the meals by July 1. If not, the agency will get $33,033 for its van service. Under that plan, the two senior centers would continue to deliver the meals for the first six months of 2003.
The Cape Girardeau Senior Center, under the plan, would get $74,610 in county tax dollars if it delivers the meals all year. But if Cape County Transit takes over, the senior center would get only $55,760. In Jackson, the senior center would get $40,866 if it delivers the meals all year and $26,683 if it delivers the meals only through June.
Do the math. If the Cape County Transit takes over delivery of the meals beginning July 1, as proposed, then it would cost taxpayers a total of $161,961 to prepare and deliver the meals. The total cost if the senior centers deliver the meals for the entire year would be $150,509.
Why pay more? Both the senior centers and Cape County Transit would have to rely on volunteers to deliver the meals, so there's no additional service being provided. Not to mention the senior centers have done a good job of delivering the meals over the years.
If the real problem is recruiting volunteers, then that's the problem that needs to be addressed. There are, no doubt, individuals in the county who would like to help but aren't aware their help is needed. Recent stories in the Southeast Missourian about the shortage of volunteers have already boosted interest.
Anyone interested in helping deliver meals to shut-ins -- a truly rewarding experience for anyone who has the time -- should contact either of the senior centers or Southeast Missouri Hospital. Volunteers are always needed to help deliver meals.