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Rising food, gas prices strain Mecklenburg County's Meals on Wheels program

Meals on Wheels.jpg
Friendship Trays
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Loaves and Fishes

Mecklenburg County's Meals on Wheels program is feeling the strain of rising food and gas prices, which have risen to historic highs in recent weeks.

The local program known as Friendship Trays of Mecklenburg County relies almost entirely on volunteers who use their personal vehicles to deliver boxed meals to seniors, people who are disabled and others who can't obtain or prepare their own meals.

As gas prices have risen, some volunteers have scaled back the number of days they deliver, said program director Kelly Vass. Others have asked for shorter routes, or routes closer to home.

The program has also been spending more on fuel for its cargo trucks that haul the meals out to pickup sites for the delivery drivers.

Vass said the program had spent about $3,825 on fuel for the trucks so far this fiscal year — or nearly twice the roughly $1,680 it spent on fuel this time in fiscal years 2019 and 2020.

Food donations have also slowed, meaning the program has had to purchase more food to make up the difference, and at higher prices. Food costs are up about 11% compared with this time last year.

Still, Vass said the program had not made any cuts to service, and that its base of volunteers had been bouncing back.

"We have loyal volunteers who enjoy what they do and they enjoy the people that they deliver to, so the recipients become part of their family, and they look forward to seeing them, "Vass said. "The reward of delivering the meals is greater than the cost of the gas."

The program could always use more drivers to help with deliveries, Vass said, and the program especially needs more donations of healthy food items, such as peanut butter, canned chicken or tuna, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, low sodium canned vegetables and canned fruit in water or light syrup.

People interested in volunteering to deliver meals or applying to receive meals can contact the program through its website.

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Nick de la Canal is a reporter for WFAE covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal