Rising Gas Prices Are Hurting Nonprofits


Gas prices are not only hurting millions financially but it may be costing some seniors their lives.

As gas prices rise to astronomical heights—the average price per gallon of gas costs $4, a record—and consumers get hit with high grocery bills, some of the nation's most defenseless people are left to fight a losing battle: Against hunger. While there is always a war against hunger, rising fuel and food prices have only exacerbated the situation.

This situation is clearly seen in nonprofit food delivery programs to homebound seniors such as Meals On Wheels. In these programs, oft-time volunteers deliver meals to the elderly, typically by driving—and paying for the gas—their own vehicles. Nowadays, volunteers are finding it harder to fund the delivery.

The MOWAA has seen a 58% loss in volunteers due to the gas prices alone. Dealing with the loss of volunteers, "our programs have to cut back on everything," says Enid Borden, President and CEO of Meals On Wheels Association of America. Now, "sometimes volunteers are only able to go out once a week or once every other week," says Borden.

The one meal a day can turn into no meals a day or a meal and frozen dinners for additional days. Now 4 out of 10 seniors sit on a wait list hoping to be one of the million to receive a warm meal.

Meals are not the only thing no longer being delivered. Also, there's reduced human contact for seniors who are commonly considered "shut-ins." The loss of volunteers who consistently provide a friendly "Hello" and check in can be devastating. One Meals On Wheels program that began condensing meal deliveries  was informed of two senior citizens left dead for as many as seven days.

It's not just single volunteers that are affected by today's climate. "When there is an economic downturn, no segment of the economy is off the hook," says Borden. Citymeals-on-Wheels, which serves New York's homebound elderly, knows this firsthand. While donor contribution is up by 13%, Citymeals has been hit by a decline in the high-end sector and in special events. Bear Stearns (BSC) was a major donor for the organization, and Citymeals has lost $500,000 in charitable contributions since that firm went under, says Marcia Stein, executive director of Citymeals. "To lose a half a million dollars in the last quarter of the year, that was very tough, and that's money that will not come back," says Stein. "It'll take many years to recover."

And, that's exactly what Citymeals is trying to do.  Taking tips from the Barack Obama campaign, the program is looking towards Web. Created 26 years ago as a response to discovery that homebound elderly New York City residents were forced to go without food from Thanksgiving Day –on a Thursday-- through the following Monday, Citymeals is looking for innovative ways to raise capital. "We know we have to win over a younger generation, and they're going to start off making $12 and $25 donations," says Stein.

Small and large donations are equally important in this trying time. Since 2007, weekends meals for the Citymeals program has increased by  $1 million and diesel fuel charges have nearly doubled. While downsizing to smaller cars or a domestic vacation are some ways of coping for Americans fighting high gas prices, says Stein, "what are the choices for older people? They don't have the option of going shopping if no meals come through, they're not going to go to the store because they'll be dead before they get there," says Stein. "All they can do is wait for someone to bring them a meal."


If you're interesting in making a donation, please visit Meals on Wheels Association of America and City-Meals-On-Wheels. 

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