Editor's Note: This month the Herald is featuring a series of stories on the Holiday Wish Lists of Mid-Columbia nonprofits and how you can help.
Phyllis Castleberry comes to the Mid-Columbia Meals on Wheels dining site at the Pasco Senior Center most weekdays. She has for a few years, since she woke up one morning feeling ill.
"I thought, 'Well, lady, you haven't been eating right,' " the 89-year-old told the Herald. "So I came down here, and to be able to have lunch with people and talk with them instead of listening to the TV and talking to yourself -- that's why I came down here."
Castleberry said the program, which provides nutritious delivered meals to homebound clients and also has seven dining centers in the Tri-City area, is important for seniors like her.
But next year, officials may have to reduce services, unless the community steps in to help.
The funding for 2014 is down $65,000 from this year's amount, the program's director wrote in an appeal letter to donors and volunteers earlier this month.
Some help has come in, including a $10,000 pledge from Kennewick First United Methodist Church. A check presentation is planned Monday.
But more help still is needed, and donations top the program's holiday wish list.
If the financial gap can't be bridged, the dining centers will close one a day a month next year and the home delivered meal service also will stop on that day, said Marcee Woffinden, director.
She said those homebound clients who are most in need will get a frozen meal ahead of time to make up for the lost day of delivery.
The number of frozen meals delivered for weekends and holidays also will be reduced, and officials will phase out the second meal program, which is for a small number of the most frail and in-need clients. That program involves delivering a second sack-lunch type meal along with the regular hot meal.
Some staff hours also will be cut, Woffinden said.
She said the potential cuts are difficult to face, describing the program as "so vital to our community and the seniors we serve" and noting that it helps preserve seniors' independence.
The local Meals on Wheels has been around since 1974. Last year, it provided more than 147,000 meals, and this year the number is expected to total about 155,000.
The program is part of the Kennewick-based Senior Life Resources Northwest. Woffinden said the funding gap is because of a combination of factors, including a dip in state and federal money.
"This special outreach to the community -- it's a first for us. We really don't want to make these cuts," she told the Herald. "We operate Meals on Wheels but it's for the community. It's a community benefit."
Castleberry sat down to lunch Friday at the Pasco dining center.
At another table, some seniors -- including Jim Wickman, 82, and Bill McMillan, 66, both of Pasco -- dug into their ham, sweet potatoes and green beans, and talked about what Meals on Wheels means to them.
The program has helped them become physically healthier through better nutrition, they said. And coming to the dining center also means conversation and social interaction.
Meals on Wheels "is a lifeline for quite a few people," McMillan said.
For more information, call 735-1911 or go to www.homedeliveredmeals.org.
w Sara Schilling: 582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @saraTCHerald