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Meals On Wheels Continues Rolling Despite Dire Straits

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

October 11 -- It has been more than a month since Meals on Wheels West was set to close. By all accounts, the tiny non-profit should no longer be in service.

But hundreds of disabled and elderly clients in Santa Monica and surrounding communities continue receiving near daily visits from the agency’s trusted volunteers who deliver low-cost meals that help them overcome hunger and neglect.

Victims of the red-hot property market and the sale of the First Christian Church at 6th and Arizona Avenue -- which has housed the organization’s offices and provided a staging area to deliver meals five days a week for more 32 years -- the group is living on borrowed time.

“I should be packing up boxes today,” said Kevin McNulty, assistant director of Meals on Wheels West. “We were supposed to leave last month. Now we’re just going day to day."

While McNulty said the agency has “worked something out” with its landlords to stay in the spot a little longer, it comes at a price -- at nearly $3,000, nearly twice the traditional rent. That's money that could be used to fund more meals and provide better care, agency officials said.

Right now the group is barely staying afloat and looking for a new -- at least 1,200-square-foot -- lease-on-life.

The new digs would not only serve as the agency’s administration center, but also act as a staging area for its force of nearly 250 volunteers to pick up meals bought from local hospitals and hotels and drive them out to residents.

“We’re requesting anyone to help and foster our survival,” said McNulty.

Though Meals on Wheels West receives a good deal of assistance from government grants and Santa Monica, a wealthy benefactor would make sure its roster of clients, ages 32 to 102, would receive a constant level of care, said McNulty.

“Bequeathing property, sponsoring the move is what we’re asking,” he said. “Our best case scenario, though, is if someone adopted us.”

Meanwhile the non-profit is in talks with the AME Church for a space and the relationship appears to be “warm and fuzzy,” said McNulty. However, he said, the agency can’t take any chances and must keep all its options open until the deal is finalized.

For McNulty, the stakes are too high.

“If we closed, it would be catastrophic for hundreds of people,” he said. “We not only provide food, but for many of our clients, we are the only ones who have regular contact with them.

“We make sure their living conditions are satisfactory. In many cases, we’ve called 911 if they have fallen or had an emergency. We are a major presence in the community.”

The two meals a day that Meals on Wheels delivers -- at a cost of $6 a day -- would likely be cut if the organization went under, said McNulty.

“In the past, when a Meals on Wheels programs was cut in nearby communities, the only food seniors and the homebound received came in the form of frozen meals, delivered once a week from hospitals,” he said.

“Our clients are behind closed doors. Without us, many of them would be forgotten.”

Though Meals on Wheels has fallen on hard times, it continues to give back to the community, McNulty said.

“We’ve been helping the Red Cross provide for the needs for many of the displaced families of Hurricane Katrina on the Westside,” said McNulty, noting that the Red Cross is using the army of volunteers Meals on Wheels provides.

Once settled into a new location, and with the help of residents, religious and service organizations, hotels, hospitals and business, Meals on Wheels intends to extend its service area in Venice, Marina del Rey and Playa Vista.

Today's task, however, is to get ready for a long work week ahead preparing meals and volunteers and praying that somewhere in the city, there is a place for them.

“The situation is dire,” said McNulty. “We just hope something comes along.”

For more information on how to help, Please call the following numbers: Volunteer: 310-394-7558 Client intake: 310-394-5133.

For more info please ask for Kevin or Rosemary at 310-394-5133 or visit our website: www.mealsonwheelswest.org or email: roseMOW@aol.com. Business hours are 9 am – 1 pm Monday through Friday.

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