COLDWATER — Five years after the Community Action Agency congregate meals program was forced out of the Commission on Aging Burnside Center in 2017, the two agencies are competing for funds to provide congregate meals and home-delivered meals for senior citizens in Branch County.
Both have requested to become the official service provided under grants received by the Branch-St. Joseph Area Agency on Aging IIIC. There is $144,813 for home-delivered meals and $48,533 set aside for congregate meals.
A congregate meal is a nutritious hot meal provided at least once a day to an eligible participant at a nutrition site, senior center or other group setting. The meals provide older adults with positive social contacts with other seniors at the meal sites.
The Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Community Health Agency board will decide Thursday who will receive the contract for the services. The program committee recommended no change in provider from the Community Action Agency in Battle Creek after reviewing significant differences in the proposal.
The selected Community Action Agency proposal would leave many seniors unserved, while the Commission on Aging would use collected millage funds to meet all local needs.
The transition between the services providers caused one concern.
CAA would continue its current program by providing meals at the Coldwater Church of Christ on Grand Street four days a week from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. It plans to open an additional congregate site in the new Union City Senior Center at 501 N. Broadway.
CAA admits there are insufficient funds to meet the needs of senior meals in Branch County. Home-delivered meals would continue at their current levels, but due to funding limitations, it could not reduce the waiting list.
CAA supplies the food from its central kitchen commissary in Battle Creek.
There is a voucher program for meals at Broadway Grills and Mel’s Diner in Union City. Both proposals would continue this service.
Meals are free, but some donations are made at a suggested $3 per meal level. CAA would use this and federal community block grants for a local match.
The COA proposed restarting its kitchen services at the Burnside Center closed in 2017. In the short time between the award of the contract, Thursday and Oct. 1 time to start services, Burnside Center hopes it could contract with CAA for up to three months to continue to provide the food.
COA said in its bid, “If the current provider is unable or unwilling to do this, we would most likely look to a commercially produced provider that can ship meals to clients and the congregate site.”
“This would most certainly not be ideal; and if we had to go this route, we would work to make the transition period as brief as possible,” COA wrote in the bid.
Burnside also recognized the difficulty in finding kitchen staff and food workers. It contacted outside firms. “At least two companies are prepared to bid on an RFP to provide the food production for our program. Both programs have the immediate capacity to make the number of meals we would need and have been successfully meeting the program objectives of an HDM program in their communities for more than 10 years each.”
The significant difference in the bids is COA is willing to use part of its program funding money for the services. COA is prepared to allocate $11,818 in millage dollars annually to this program for congregate meals.
“Future goals might include offering a second meal per day, offering weekend meals, or other items,” the proposal stated.
For home-delivered meals, it will “allocate $172,623 millage dollars annually to this program. Additional monies could be considered in the future as we see how much demand there is for the service.”
The COA goal is to serve 38,000 or more units of home delivered meals annually from the current 17,446.
The COA proposal stated, “This is money that is already available in the COA budget. It is not additional millage money that needs voter approval to take effect. It is not one-time money.”
COA said in its proposal that to ease concerns about existing Burnside Center programs, “Allocating these funds can be done without negative effects on other currently existing programs and services offered.”
Committee members were not given the actual bidders but looked at the proposals, which quickly identified those bidding.
Two of three commissioners on the committee spoke against the COA bid.
St. Joseph County Commissioner Kathy Pangle did not like that COA would hire another company to start up the service. She said, “Bidding up the meal production to a larger company, I didn’t like that. You have to bring it back in-house. That probably won’t happen.”
Hillsdale County commissioner Mark Wiley was unsure about eliminating home meal waiting lists. “It’s just like a politician making promises during the campaign. Making that statement about eliminating the waiting list is, I take it as just that. It’s politics.”
The entire health agency board of two commissioners from each of the three counties will make the final decision Thursday.