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Maine's Meals on Wheels programs struggle to meet new demand as pandemic funds run out

Manuel Rodrigues, 84, right, opens the door upon hearing Meals on Wheels of Rhode Island driver Jim Stotler pull up to deliver his meal Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, in Cumberland, R.I.
David Goldman
/
AP
Manuel Rodrigues, 84, right, opens the door upon hearing Meals on Wheels of Rhode Island driver Jim Stotler pull up to deliver his meal Friday, Nov. 20, 2020, in Cumberland, R.I.

The number of Mainers who use Meals on Wheels more than doubled during the pandemic, and that demand hasn't subsided.

In just one part of Maine, 225 people in Aroostook County participated in the program a few years ago. That number more than doubled during the pandemic, to nearly 470 people.

The Executive Director of the Aroostook Agency on Aging, Joy Barresi Saucier, says that's because many people who joined the program under relaxed pandemic rules were already eligible.

"Two-thirds of the folks that we signed on during COVID qualified for our program anyway, and so there was this demand that we hadn't even understood. Not only in Aroostook County, but throughout Maine," Saucier says.

Saucier says extra pandemic funding is running out, so the Aroostook Agency on Aging is scrambling to raise community funds to continue serving all who are eligible.

And that's leaving some programs in a bind, according to Saucier. She says regular state and federal funds only cover meals for roughly 60 people in her region.

"And so when we're seeing numbers around 400-plus, that's just not going to continue to sustain us. So that's the challenge is managing that gap and that transition out of that pandemic money in terms of where do we go from here," Saucier says.

The Aroostook Agency on Aging is currently fundraising at the community level to close its funding gap.