For the past forty years, federal funding has allowed the Prairie Five Community Action Council to provide important senior meal services to its five county coverage area without change or interruption. But beginning December 31, a tighter tap will see all that change. And a number of Prairie Five meal services, including Yellow Medicine County city's of Clarkfield and Echo will be making due with less.
"In all of the communities where we are making a change, we're still trying to maintain some level of service," said Prairie Five Senior Nutrition Center Coordinator Erick Hedman. "We know that nutrition is very important to people."
The Prairie Five Community Action Council got its start in 1965 when area individuals formulated the private non-profit under President Lyndon Johnson's Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. Originally consisting of the three counties of Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, and Yellow Medicine, the community action agency wouldn't become "Prairie Five" until 1975 with the addition of Big Stone and Swift.
Overseen by a 15 member representative council, Prairie Five offers a wide range of services. While these entail everything from energy assistance programs to transportation services, Hedman said Prairie Five's congregate meal site and home delivered food services constitute one of the action council's most significant programs, overseeing the preparation and delivery of over 500 meals to seniors per day.
According to Hedman, it's the 2013 Sequestration's automatic, across-the-board cuts to federal and domestic programs, including the Older American Act (OAA), that is at the heart of service reductions to Prairie Five's service area.
For 2013, Hedman said that 27-county elderly service organization, The Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging (MNRAAA), was able to maintain current levels of service for older adults by drawing down reserves or by making short term adjustments. Looking ahead, however, it was evident that the agency and its partners would have to learn to live with less.
Hedman said that MNRAAA and its counterparts worked to develop guidelines to evaluate service areas and identify those most suited for targeting and utilization. He emphasized that some level of service was maintained in all coverage areas, and that creative solutions, whenever recognized, were encouraged.
Clarkfield meal site
The situation in the city of Clarkfield provides an ideal example for the type of alternative sought by the organization.
"The Friendship Cafe was willing to keep the senior meal site going, so that's a positive thing said Hedman. "We've basically cut ties with that service in Clarkfield, but we're going to be helping out the Friendship Cafe any way we can."
As it was, Prairie Five had been contracting with cafe to both prepare senior meals and serve as host site for the congregate dining. In this scenario Prairie Five covered the full costs of meals, suggesting that participating seniors donate $3.75 to help cover a portion of the costs.
Page 2 of 2 - With Prairie Five now out of the picture, the Friendship Cafe is still providing meal site services, only now it will be dependent on payments directly from seniors who will be without any supplementation from the federal government come December 31.
In order to help ease the sting of added costs, Friendship Cafe manager Trevor Suckow said that the restaurant will offer seniors a dollar off their plate as well as half-price off accompanying drinks and sides during meal site hours, which run from 11:00 to 1:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.
According to owner Jean Suckow, when seniors first heard the news they inquired with Prairie Five if there was anything they did that caused the withdrawal of the service as well as anything they could do to see it returned. Seniors were informed that it was nothing they did. Unfortunately, it was simply due to a lack of resources and they were told there was nothing they could do.
Approaching the upcoming change, the meal site had averaged between 8 and 16 people. Given the importance of healthy food and socializing for seniors as well as healthy patronage for the cafe, it is generally hoped that seniors will continue to enjoy the service at the same degree of frequency.
As for Echo, applicable seniors in both rural communities will continue to receive home delivery of meals, but the congregate meal site held at the Echo Community Center, which had served an average of about 11 seniors, has been shut down without a proposed alternative.
Looking down the road, Hedman said he would love to see services reinstituted, but based on the present trajectory of funding, an abstract alternative to the program seems the most likely solution.
"We're doing the best we can," he said. "For me, taking care of our seniors is one of the most important things we can do ... I refuse to think negatively about the situation. We just have to be creative."
The following are a list of cities alongside the Prairie Five services they offer within Yellow Medicine County.
Canby: Congregate dining (one site) and home delivered meals
Clarkfield: Home delivered meals
Echo: Home delivered meals
Porter: Home delivered meals
St. Leo: Home delivered meals
Granite Falls: Congregate dining in two locations. Home delivered meals facilitated by agency other than Prairie Five.
Wood Lake: Home Delivered Meals
Hanley Falls: Congregate dining (one site) and home delivered meals