Reliance residents say they have proof they paid for meal planRELIANCE — Despite a recent report from an agency that serves meals to the area’s senior population, those 60 and older in Reliance say they have proof they have always paid more than $2 per meal.
By: Anna Jauhola, The Daily Republic
RELIANCE — Despite a recent report from an agency that serves meals to the area’s senior population, those 60 and older in Reliance say they have proof they have always paid more than $2 per meal.
The Rural Office of Community Services (ROCS) in Lake Andes recently discontinued the Reliance Dakota Senior Meals program due to a large financial deficit.
Jean Anderson, Reliance, has been a participant in the program for several years. After she found out a ROCS representative said the town’s residents paid about $2 per meal for the last several years, she and others were angry.
“We have receipts to prove we’ve paid $3.50 or $4 a meal,” she said. “We can’t figure out where they (ROCS) came up with $2 when we just showed you proof that we paid for 20 meals in advance for anyone that ate at the center.”
She said ROCS suggested a $3.50 donation at first. As costs rose, ROCS suggested $4, with which residents in Reliance complied. Each meal costs about $7, which includes travel costs because the meals are delivered from Chamberlain.
The group of patrons has a receipt book going back to at least 2005, showing each participant purchased 20 meals at a time for either $70 or $80. At any given time, four to 10 residents participated in the program, said Red McManus, mayor of Reliance. “The accusation of them not paying their way, that’s my biggest concern, I think,” he said. “That’s what’s stirring up the mill is the accusation that they’re stealing.”
ROCS cannot require patrons to pay for meals, he said. The meals are provided on a donation basis.
Karen Janousek, finance officer for ROCS, said the $2 figure comes from figuring expenses into each donation.
“What they don’t realize is there are expenses to run the site,” she said. “When you figure expenses and donations, that’s what it came out to be.”
Janousek confirmed the people of Reliance were paying $3.50 or $4 per meal, but added that the expenses brought the average donation down to $2. The expenses taken out of each donation included the cost of food, paying someone to prepare the meals and paying another to deliver them.
The city of Reliance has provided space for the noon meal for participating seniors since 2002. The city allowed the use of kitchen facilities in its town hall to accommodate the program, McManus said.
In 2008, ROCS pulled the site manager from Reliance because the budget could no longer support the position.
“We went cold turkey,” Anderson said.
Since then, Anderson and other patrons have been taking care of daily activities like depositing money, keeping records and meal counts, and cleaning up.
According to a list of Reliance’s year-end balances for the program between 2007 and 2008, the program operated at a negative $1,629.39 in 2007 and negative $7,072.60 in 2008. The program has been in the red since 2004. As of April, the program in Reliance was operating at a negative $9,330.20.
Janousek said ROCS will likely have to eat the deficit, but the board is still discussing options.
Anderson and McManus believe part of the reason for the debt is a lack of fundraising efforts by the former site manager and lack of help from ROCS after the program could no longer support a site manager.
As part of the budget, the program requires local need donations from the town, for which the site manager was responsible. For example, a monthly budget in 2008 prepared by ROCS called for Reliance residents to financially support the program with thousands of dollars.
“So this little community in one month of 2008 should have come up with over $4,000 to support the program that fed 5.5 people,” Anderson said.
Nancy Janak, nutrition field director, said ROCS has given Reliance participants ideas for fundraisers and let them know of any grants available.
“We’ve tried, but when the funds aren’t there the program can’t afford to keep them going,” Janak said.
Reliance has also had some questionable dealings with ROCS in the past, residents say. Not only has Reliance been without a site manager for three years, but the town also didn’t see a ROCS representative in town between 2008 and May, when ROCS announced the possibility of discontinuing the program.
The group is disappointed that ROCS did not give any guidelines or help in raising funds to save the Reliance program. As the entity heading up the program, Anderson said ROCS should have been in the community encouraging the people to support the senior meals.
“We can’t go say, ‘You better give us some money or they’re going to close us up,’ ” she said. “They missed their point.”