Meals on Wheels finds potential lifeline


Chantal M. Lovell | October 26, 2013
 
Community Action Napa Valley may have made the connection it needs to keep the struggling Meals on Wheels program afloat.
 
Last month, CANV Executive Director Drene Johnson announced that the senior meal program was sinking about $10,000 in debt per month, forcing it, for the first time, to put a cap on the number of people it feeds.
 
CANV has created a partnership with Rohlffs Manor, a senior facility in west Napa, that it hopes will develop into the saving grace of Meals on Wheels.
 
Beginning Nov. 1, CANV will take over the meal service at the senior living apartments. A lean staff hired by CANV, along with students from the nonprofit’s culinary training school, will prepare meals and offer catering services.
 
Though Meals on Wheels food will still be prepared by local catering company Suppertime, Johnson said she hopes that the Rohlffs kitchen can eventually take on Meals on Wheels preparation.
 
Doing so would bring down the cost of the more than 400 meals delivered daily to Napa County seniors, according to CANV. Because CANV is a nonprofit, it can purchase food from Napa’s food bank. Additionally, it can maximize resources through volunteers.
 
Meals on Wheels fell on hard times this year when its budget was cut by the federal government. The real pain came in the summer when the Napa County jail alerted CANV it could no longer prepare meals for the seniors.
 
Because of prison realignment that has sent lower-level offenders back on the street and more serious offenders to county jails, the jail is struggling to find inmates who can be trusted in a kitchen environment.
 
Meals on Wheels, which had been paying $2.54 per meal at the jail, turned to Suppertime, which charges $3.25 per plate, not including milk. Once the cost of milk is added, each meal cost $1 more.
 
If CANV is able to start preparing the meals itself in the Rohlffs kitchen, Johnson said, the cost can be brought back down and hopefully bring the nonprofit out of the red.
 
Rohlffs serves about 100 meals daily to apartment residents as well as walk-ins, all of whom will be fed by CANV. The nonprofit does not anticipate raising prices for Rohlffs residents, but walk-ins, who make up the majority of diners, may see an increase in price, Johnson said.
 
CANV’s goal will be to move all the residents who eat at the Rohlffs cafe on to a debit card meal plan system.
 
“We’re really excited about the opportunity to work with them,” said a spokesman from Rohlffs Manor management company EAH, who declined to be named.
 
The spokesman said EAH liked the fact that CANV will incorporate its culinary school into the food service, as well as CANV’s plan to partner with Meals on Wheels.
 
EAH works with Meals on Wheels at other EAH properties in Northern California, the representative said
 
The five employees who work in the Rohlffs kitchen have been given notice, Johnson said. On Nov. 1, CANV will bring in a staff of one full-time chef and a part-time worker, as well as volunteers. Johnson is also gearing up to volunteer.
 
“We have some of our former culinary students who are volunteering, as a way to pay us back,” Johnson said.
 
The nonprofit offers food preparation and pastry courses to down-and-out clients. The classes, which prepare students for jobs in the hospitality industry, are offered free of charge.
 
Since CANV announced a month ago that it was struggling financially, Johnson said, a number of generous donors have come forward to lend support.
 
Bill Leigon, president of Reata Winery, is hoping to have a fundraiser for Meals on Wheels in December. The Gasser Foundation, which made an undisclosed donation, “came through in a very big way,” Johnson said.
 
“There have been a lot of little donations,” Johnson said, adding that every little bit helps. “People sending in $5, $10, $20. People are concerned. They know Meals is for everybody.”
 
“We’re grateful for the response and we’re still continuing to serve and deliver and keep plugging along,” she added. “We’re still here. Thank you for the support.”