COLDWATER — Beginning Oct. 1, qualified seniors in Branch County will start receiving home meals from the Commission on Aging.
By September 2023, COA promised to end the waiting list for meals-on-wheels and serve meals at a lower cost.Congregate meals will move from the Coldwater Church of Christ on Grand Street to the COA’s Burnside Center off Michigan Avenue.
A congregate meal is a nutritious hot meal provided at least once a day to an eligible participant at a nutrition site, senior center or other group setting. The meals provide older adults with positive social contacts with other seniors at the meal sites.
The change comes after the Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Community Health Agency board voted 4-2 to award the federal grant contract through the Branch-St. Joseph Area Agency on Aging IIIC to COA from provider Community Action Agency of Battle Creek, which also serves Branch County.
The Burnside Center removed its kitchen in 2017. COA will need to upgrade, license and staff its facility to begin preparing meals there.
That caused concern from Hillsdale commissioner Mark Wiley. At the policy committee, which recommends CAA, he said, “We were discussing the operational issues. We have no real control over that. How much of an impact would that have?”
Laura Sutter, AAA director, said, “They would use a larger meal service and bid out the meals for a period of time until their kitchen is ready and their staffing is up.” Sutter expects this to take three to four months.
The contract is for three years, renewable yearly. St. Joseph Commissioner Jared Hoffmaster said, “We can hold them accountable. If they don’t come through with the promises, we could always just not renew them.”Comparing the two bids showed that CAA would provide meals for $13.77 for congregate meals and $12.49 for home delivery. COA promised $9.96 for congregate meals and $7.86 for home delivery.
Both expect to provide just over 4,000 congregate meals a year. For home delivery, CAA said it would deliver 13,500, with COA promising 19,343, eliminating a current wait list.
Hillsdale commission Brent Leininger said the cost differential was critical to him.
The significant difference in bids was additional local funding. CAA would use $49,000 in federal community block grants. The COA will tap into the senior millage approved by voters to operate Burnside spending $172,000 a year.Chuck Asher, director of the CAA programs, said his agency suggested using millage money to eliminate the meals on the wheels waiting list last year. “We proposed millage funding a year ago to address the waitlist. The (Branch) County Board of Commissioners was not in favor.”
Asher said, “What upsets me is having to lay off and maybe terminate three or four staff. Hopefully, we can find other places for them at the agency.”
CAA used a local group to serve meals and deliver meals. “We have a good dedicated set of volunteers at both HDM and congregate. I don’t know if they’ll go over to the COA. That’s up to them. They are volunteers.”A transition of services between the agencies must take place by September 30. “We have to be professional.” AAA purchased equipment for the meals program, which will transfer to COA.
Asher said, “What is important is the most people get served and the quality of the service. I’m hoping that’s what happens.”
The split between COA and CAA took place in 2017. CAA moved because it could not justify paying $1,500 monthly rent to Branch County. CAA operated the programs using the Burnside kitchen.
COA raised its rent because the Branch County Sheriff ended the use of inmates to help in the kitchen. It ultimately removed the fully licensed kitchen.
The millage used is a renewal passed in 2018. The 0.4908 mills raises over $675,000 yearly for COA and Burnside operations.