A lack of volunteers and an inflation rate that’s been chipping away at its budget since the pandemic was declared has marked the end of the road for a vital local charity.
On Saturday (Oct. 8) Meals on Wheels for South Surrey and White Rock announced it is shutting down its service after more than 50 years in operation.
On Tuesday (Oct. 11), another Surrey agency – Cloverdale Community Kitchen – stepped up to take on the 60 clients who would otherwise have been left without meal service.
Pat Patton, coordinator of Meals on Wheels for South Surrey/White Rock told PAN she was “most sorry” to announce the closure.
“I’m still doing the work of four people and I can’t keep going,”
Meals on Wheels delivers low-cost, hot meals to a largely senior clientele in the area who are unable to cook for themselves or to leave their home for food. For many clients, the interaction between the volunteers delivering their meals three days a week has been their only one for the day.
Now, the South Surrey/White Rock branch is unable to continue.
As previously reported by Peace Arch News on June 10, Meals on Wheels was calling for volunteers to alleviate some of the burden on the organization. Since then, the situation hasn’t improved. Instead, the cost of food and fuel has continued to rise.
Since the gas prices first started to rise, Meals on Wheels had to stop paying their volunteers for their gas usage.
The charity serves about 60 clients in the area, which has been the average for a few years now. Not long ago, the organization had to stop taking on more clients as they could barely serve the group they had.
“Our food prices were doubling starting in November and we can’t afford it and our clients can’t either for the most part. It would have meant we would have been charging over $14 (per meal), presently, it’s $7.75. I was expecting it to (only) go up by a couple of dollars,” Patton said.
This price increase, which the group was informed about three weeks ago was “the kiss of death” for the agency.
“We do serve a lot of people who are living right on the edge financially and getting the news that the meal prices were going to virtually double… that, combined with the price of gas, and we’re very short on volunteers, it’s almost impossible to get more volunteers.”
The volunteers Patton does have are working over-time to complete the work of multiple people, which is just not sustainable, she said.
Because they are a small organization and are not officially registered, Meals on Wheels does not qualify for many grants. The money they receive is nowhere near enough to have a significant effect, Patton said.
“There’s lots of word service being given to how good everybody from the government and down are going to be and what they’re going to do, but there’s very little action that makes any kind of difference to the situation that we are all experiencing right now,” she said.
The last delivery for Meals on Wheels’ clients on the Semiahmoo Peninsula will be at the end of the month.
Patton quickly shifted her focus to finding another organization in Surrey that can take over their clientele, so that the people who rely on the service will not be “left hanging.”
Since she announced the program’s closure, Cloverdale Community Kitchen reached out to Patton and is “eager” to take over Meals on Wheels’ client-base for the area. The organization charges $6 per meal for their ‘Mobile Meals’ program and delivers food four days a week.
The number of organizations that deliver hot meals to clients is dwindling in the nearby areas. There are more options for frozen meals, but that is not ideal for Patton’s client base, she said, as they often forget about them while they sit at the back of the freezer.
Patton has been spending the last couple weeks spreading the unfortunate news to Meals on Wheels’ client-base in South Surrey and White Rock.
“Most people are really sad because they’ve gotten to know the people who bring their meals… We are still sometimes the only people that person sees for the day or week, we are still the only ones that come (through) the door.”
It is no secret that inflation has been making it difficult for non-profits to serve their growing number of clients, but Patton does not see things improving any time soon, saying that Meals on Wheels closing for the area marks a sign of the times.
“It’s not just us, it’s right across the board… We may be the first to go, but I don’t think we’ll be the last,” Patton said.
“I think it will improve again… but people need that time to recover (from the pandemic) but for us, we’ve reached the limit. I always hoped that somebody would come in and take over, but it’s a lot of work and very little to no financial reward.”