By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — Shawn Hermanson oversees the distribution of 200 hot meals a day to older residents in the Mankato area.
Like other organizations receiving federal funding, the site coordinator of the local Meals on Wheels program hopes those meal deliveries can continue unfettered.
“So far, knock on wood,” she said of the potential cutbacks looming from the federal sequestration — across-the-board cuts to virtually all federal programs as a result of $85 billion in federal spending cuts.
Hermanson is site manager of Gus Johnson Plaza in Mankato, where meals are prepared each day for noon deliveries to program clients’ homes.
The meals also are consumed by senior residents in the dining centers of Gus Johnson and Orness Plaza in Mankato, Koppen Gardens in North Mankato and Parkview Manor in St. Peter.
The program uses seven drivers, including four volunteers. Program officials said they’re striving for an all-volunteer set of drivers to save money.
The program has been spending about $1,000 a month to contract with drivers provided by MRCI in Mankato.
Meals on Wheels is coordinated by Lutheran Social Service and facilitated by Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging.
Vanessa Steffl, who supervises 22 Meals sites in a six-county area, said the program has heretofore managed to avoid federal cutbacks, but the sequester may put an end to that good fortune.
“Most people think they’re definitely going to make a cut.”
Steffl said the program is partially funded by federal and state subsidies with the remainder coming from sources including the United Way, private donations and some fundraising.
Hermanson said the uncertainty of the program’s status in light of the federal action has made for client anxiety.
“We get a lot of calls asking, ‘What are we going to do if we don’t get our meals?’”
Under the program’s mandated guidelines, meals are available to anyone 60 and older — no one can be turned away — and the suggested per-meal donation of $3.85. People under 60 can be served at a charge of $6.70 per meal.
Hermanson said more volunteer drivers are needed because the program operates under a 45-minute “safety zone.” Hot meals must be delivered within that time to ensure their health safety isn’t compromised.
People interested in becoming drivers can call 1-866-974-0284.
The Meals on Wheels program is not to be confused with the non-subsidized Hot Meals on Wheels program, an all-volunteer effort operated by VINE Faith in Action in Mankato that charges all recipients a per-meal fee.