EAST LIVERPOOL - After 40 years of providing meals to area people, the Quad City Meals on Wheels (MOW) program will end Dec. 31 due to lack of volunteers to adequately operate the program.
Participants have been notified that they can continue to have meals delivered until that date, but as of Jan. 1, 2014, will have to make alternate arrangements for their daily sustenance.
Tom Gulutz, MOW board of directors vice president, said about 25 volunteers are still offering their service to deliver meals to between 35 and 40 residents five days each week, but more are needed.
Calls for volunteers, however, have turned up no takers, he said.
"We had it in the paper (that volunteers were needed) and approached area churches, but," he trailed off, shaking his head and adding, "We need backups on different routes. If we had 10 more, we would have been able to manage."
At a recent meeting, only four people attended, and they were the board of directors' officers: Gulutz, President Anita Strader, Treasurer Becky Sutton and Secretary Carol Freeland.
"We finally decided to let it go," Gulutz said, adding, "I hate to see it go."
In the early summer of 1973, the Rev. Lee of St. John Lutheran Church and Church Women United started the MOW program, and on Oct. 1, 15 frozen meals were brought from Youngstown and prepared at the Community Resource Center, then delivered to grateful residents unable to fend for themselves.
After that, a hot meal and sack lunch was provided Monday through Friday, with volunteers delivering them, even on holidays that fell during the week.
In less than a year, MOW moved into a different building and two cooks were hired, with meals prepared fresh daily.
Over the years, the program again moved several times due to remodeling, sales of buildings, heating concerns and more, coming to its current location in the First United Methodist Church in March 2010.
The client count that began at 15 grew to as high as 70 at some times, but now averages about 40.
In 1976, the MOW program gained its non-profit status and has been financially supported over the years by such agencies as United Way, East Liverpool City Hospital, Dave Mason Foundation and many local churches.
With this support, Gulutz said, meals that started at $2 each have risen only to $3 over the past 40 years, but he admitted, "Most meals (going out) were free," since the MOW program set few eligibility regulations and many people claimed they were unable to pay.
"Some abused it," Gulutz admitted.
But the program was essential to many, such as senior citizens or younger people with disabilities who were unable to drive to prepare their own meals, those with illnesses or who had just returned from a hospital visit and those living without the financial means to eat properly.
In addition, keeping in daily contact with the recipients, volunteers were able to communicate with them about any needs they might have.
Despite rising costs for food and supplies, Gulutz said the MOW "struggled financially, but got through," but there was never money in the budget to help volunteers with their gas costs, which they have paid themselves.
The cost of gasoline has likely played a large part in the lack of volunteers, Gulutz said, as well as an aging volunteer list.
"When I came on, most of the drivers were older than they people they delivered to," Gulutz said.
Delivery to Wellsville was cut to three days a week, but volunteers were still finding it difficult to afford gasoline for their travels.
Since sending the letter notifying program recipients, Gulutz said only a few who are housebound have offered any feedback, but the MOW board is hoping the local Catholic Charities can pick up the additional clients.
Gulutz said Catholic Charities is federally funded and has vans to deliver meals, and current MOW clients have been given information and advised that the board will help in any way it can to make other arrangements.
The board commended and thanked the hundreds of people who volunteered their time, as well as the churches and civic organizations that donated desserts or money and the foundations and organizations that funded the program the past 40 years.
A fond farewell was also wished to the many clients served over the years, with board members saying they will miss them.
Those clients who need assistance are reminded to call either Strader at 304-564-3536 or Gulutz at 330-853-7302.