The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday put off voting on a contract that would replace the delivery of five hot meals per week with frozen entrees for senior citizens.
The food delivery program is aimed at people 60 or older who are homebound due to illness, incapacity or disability, or who are otherwise isolated. About 152 people receive the service, according to county officials.
The county Area Agency on Aging contracted with the Merced County Rescue Mission in 2012 to run the service. Under the Rescue Mission’s management, recipients in Gustine, Stevinson and Santa Nella were switched to frozen meals eight months ago. County leaders want to make the change permanent for all recipients countywide.
County Executive Officer Jim Brown said the move would save the county $80,000 a year. He said neighboring counties such as San Joaquin, Fresno, Stanislaus and Madera have made the switch to frozen meals.
The supervisors were set to vote on the issue Tuesday, but Brown pulled the agenda item and said he didn’t know when it will be brought back.
The $231,234 contract with Taher Inc., the company that produces the food, would have the company deliver 42,098 frozen meals for a year. If approved, seniors would get one visit per week to drop off a pack of five frozen meals, instead of daily hot meal service.
Brown said the contract was removed from Tuesday’s agenda to allow the supervisors more time to understand the issue. Brown said his staff worked late into the night extending the current home-delivery contracts for two months.
“We are recommending that it be pulled in order to give you more time to better understand how it would be implemented and transitioned,” Brown told the supervisors Tuesday. “We have not set a specific day at this time to return because we want to make sure your questions are answered.”
A handful of advocates spoke out about the issue at Tuesday’s meeting, saying replacing hot meals with frozen entrees would eliminate daily visits to the seniors, many of whom rely on wheelchairs or suffer from debilitating diseases.
“I hope you guys reconsider the idea of going to frozen meals one time a week,” said Ernie Solis, who used to work as a site coordinator for the program. “The idea was to enable seniors to stay in their homes. I plead with the board to reconsider this idea and find an alternative.”
Los Banos Mayor Mike Villalta also shared his concern, saying older people in Merced County deserve better than frozen meals. Villalta submitted a letter pointing out that some older people don’t have a functioning microwave or know how to operate it, and others might not have a freezer that can hold a week’s worth of food.
“I hope that you will bring this back for a discussion and not just make this a done deal,” Villalta said. “Yesterday I received some calls from city officials and they mentioned that some of the seniors who were not capable of operating a microwave are eating them cold because they just couldn’t function anymore.”
“I just hope you take that into consideration before you even think about dismissing this program and going to a once-a-week frozen meal program,” the mayor added. “These people deserve more than just a frozen meal.”
Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or email@example.com.