Churches step up to fill the void after Meals on Wheels shuts down

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WATERLOO, IL (KPLR) – Finding a way to keep serving seniors; the Meals on Wheels program closed its doors in Waterloo on Friday. That’s going to affect nearly 200 senior citizens in Monroe County who counted on daily meals delivered to their homes or senior centers.

Local churches and volunteers are stepping up to fill the gap.

The not-for-profit agency Western Egyptian shut down its kitchen and senior center after delivering five to six frozen meals to seniors to tide them over next week. On the front door of the business you’ll find messages calling for action in the state capitol, evidence of the political battle that has trapped federal funds for the programs in Springfield.

But that’s only part of the story.

Communities all across Illinois could soon be facing the same crisis among their senior citizens. Without a state budget, federal funds for meals and transportation services cannot be released.

“We need to get the governor and the representatives playing ball together right now, cause it’s only the citizens that are having problems right now,” said Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith.

Mayor Smith is worried about how long it may take to pass a state budget, so he brought local religious and social service leaders together to work on a temporary fix.

“My main concern is that people don’t go hungry. People who depend on these services really get a meal and they don’t miss out,” said Rev. James Watson, St. Paul United Church of Christ.

The group received permission to cook meals in a Waterloo school kitchen, as well as commitments from churches to help pay for a week of food. Real Life Methodist Church plans to open Monday at midday to seniors who normally would spend time at the Waterloo Senior Center.

“I think there is a great deal of commitment here that everybody who needs a meal gets it and then some,” Rev. Watson said. “I think there are some short-term goals we are obviously working out right now, probably some mid-term goals as school starts, and we’re looking at maybe getting another facility for cooking the meals.”

A new Monroe County not-for-profit known as House of Neighborly Service is ready to match up existing services with individual needs.

“Our vision is ‘help for today, hope for tomorrow and up for life,’ so that the people who need help, we will provide resources for them,” said Rev. Thelma Burgonio-Watson, president of House of Neighborly Service.

Seniors in need of meals or assistance can contact the Monroe County Help Line at 618-939-8680.