Meals-on-Wheels to include Fairbanks pets

A $500 grant to help Meals on Wheels recipients in Fairbanks with the cost of caring for their pets, unexpectedly grew into $2,500 thanks to an anonymous donor who read about the program in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

The Fairbanks Senior Center was excited about the initial $500 grant from Meals on Wheels America, intended to help pay for the care of pets for homebound seniors.

“For many of our Meals on Wheels clients, their pet is a family member,” said Darlene Supplee, executive director of both the Fairbanks Senior Center and the Meals on Wheels program. “The grant is a beginning step in establishing a potential pet food program and the monies granted will provide roughly 300 pounds of food to the loving pet of a senior.”

Studies show that pets can play a critical role in helping senior citizens by reducing stress, lowering blood pressure, increasing social interaction and physical activity. But along with those benefits comes the financial responsibility of caring for the pet. Not everyone has those resources.

In Fairbanks, 74 percent of the seniors who are on the Meals on Wheels delivery route are at or below an income level of $15,000, according to the Fairbanks Senior Center. In 2017, the local Meals on Wheels provided more than 52,000 home-delivered meals to 279 seniors. The program provides balanced and nutritious meals to those who otherwise might go hungry.

It costs $150 per month to provide 30 home delivered meals, which also includes a wellness check by the driver. For some seniors, this meal delivery is the only regular outside-the-home contact they receive.

Supplee said she is hopeful that the program will grow locally .

“It’s kind of a building thing,” she said. “We will apply again next year hoping to get a little bit more.”

After a story about this program ran in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, an anonymous donor surprised the senior center with another donation, this time for $2,000. That will help tremendously, said Supplee.

The Fairbanks Senior Center is just starting to “stretch out into the animal component,” Supplee said. “There’s a lot to be managed with regards to grooming, cat litter box changes, trips to vets. This money can be used for any of those things. We’re just choosing food right now, that’s the biggest staple.”

This grant will alleviate some of the financial hardship for homebound seniors.

“While the benefits of companionship are clear, taking care of a pet can be financially and physically challenging for seniors,” said Meals on Wheels America President/CEO Ellie Hollander. “Meals on Wheels Loves Pets helps local Meals on Wheels providers alleviate this hardship, and at the same time reduce the negative effects of isolation.”

Meals on Wheels America has granted $300,000 to 198 local Meals on Wheels programs through the Meals on Wheels Loves Pets initiative this year. Funding is made possible, in part, through a donation from Banfield Charitable Trust. To date, the grant program has distributed more than $2.4 million in funding and pet food donations.

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