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meals on wheelsBy BERNIE BELLAN
We received an email from a reader who was concerned about a reduction in the number of days that kosher Meals on Wheels are being delivered to a parent.

Apparently meals that used to be delivered three days a week – Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, had been cut back to only twice a week – Mondays and Fridays.
That email prompted me to begin looking into kosher Meals on Wheels as a whole. I wondered why the number of days they were being delivered had been reduced from three to two. As I investigated further though, I began to wonder just how much of a demand there is for kosher Meals on Wheels altogether.

Kosher mealsKosher Meals on Wheels are ordered through Meals on Wheels, not through any Jewish organization. They are prepared though at the Gwen Secter Centre. In addition, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg gives Gwen Secter an annual allocation to subsidize the cost of kosher Meals on Wheels. This year the allocation is $34,960 (down from $39,600 in 2016).
A reference to the Meals on Wheels website shows that the cost of a kosher Meal on Wheels is $10.20 Based on the number of kosher Meals on Wheels that were delivered last year, which was 4,829, the subsidy amounts to over $8 a meal. (In comparison, the cost of a non-kosher Meal on Wheels is only $6.) This means that the actual cost of a kosher Meal on Wheels is over $18, more than 300% more than the cost of a non-kosher Meal on Wheels.
However, as we found out, the demand for kosher Meals on Wheels has declined drastically over the past six years – from over 8,000 a year in 2011 to what will likely be fewer than 4,000 this year. At the same time though, the cost of kosher meat has skyrocketed. As a result, according to Gwen Secter executive director Becky Chisick, while the number of meals being ordered has declined, “Gwen Secter is awarded an annual allocated amount to subsidize the cost of the Kosher meals prepared for Kosher Meals on Wheels. This is always a challenge as the funding has decreased due to the decrease in meals ordered annually, yet the prices for kosher food continues to rise.”
When I contacted the Meals on Wheels office to ask about kosher Meals on Wheels and why there had been a cutback in delivery of those meals. I was told that I should submit my questions to Rhonda Gardner, who is the executive director of Meals on Wheels.
Rhonda responded to my specific question about the cutback in delivery days for kosher Meals on Wheels, saying that, “Due to demographic changes including an aging population throughout Winnipeg, our client numbers are declining in certain areas of the city. To respond to these changes, we have had to modify meal delivery on certain delivery routes to respond to changes in the number of clients as well as to our volunteer base...As such, changes to delivery routes are not uncommon, and are part of managing the delivery of over 160,000 meals a year, entirely by volunteers, across all of Winnipeg.
 “… some changes have been made to some of our delivery routes. Several months ago, the regular Mon/Wed/Fri Gwen Secter route was changed to a Mon/Fri delivery schedule.
 “When we make delivery route changes like these, we notify clients directly of the change. We also offer them the option to double-up meals for days when there is no delivery to allow clients to receive the same number of meals per week. As well, kosher meals from Gwen Secter are available daily through the hospitals. These meals are available Monday through Friday, and in some areas weekend deliveries are also available. As well, there are other kosher food options available in Winnipeg, and these options would both complement and supplement days when kosher food service from Gwen Secter is not available and Meals on Wheels delivery is not available.”

I emailed Becky Chisick, asking her whether delivering meals only on two days of the week would have a negative impact upon the quality of the meals –since it seemed self-evident that more of the meals would have to be delivered frozen if they were going to have to last four days instead of two? (The Meals on Wheels website refers to “hot” meals being delivered. There is no reference to frozen meals.)
Becky replied: “Please understand that the Gwen Secter serves as a contractor to Meals on Wheels. Meals on Wheels provides us with the number of kosher meals required on a daily basis and they are prepared by the Gwen Secter. The Gwen Secter invoices Meals on Wheels, they pay their bill. The rest of the logistics (delivery dates & volunteers) are all organized by Meals on Wheels. We are two separate organizations.
“I am happy to comment on the food preparation. When meals are doubled up, it is not a larger portion being sent. They receive meals for each day. They receive a variety of meals, not the same for everyday of the week. Meals for the additional days come frozen and can be heated up by the client or the client’s homecare. Microwavable containers can be requested as well.”

But, nagging at me was the question: Just how many individuals are asking for kosher Meals on Wheels in the first place?
The answer came from Rhonda Gardner – and you can see the answer in the table provided: The number of kosher meals being delivered by Meals on Wheels has undergone a drastic decline over the past six years – almost a 50% decline from 2011 to 2016 and, if you look at the figures for 2017 thus far, there is quite a substantial decline in demand for 2017 over the same period in 2016 (from 2803 in 2016 to only 2192 in 2017).
It would seem evident, therefore, that the demand for kosher Meals on Wheels is on a steep decline and there is no reason to think that it will not continue to decline. At some point one wonders whether the cost to the Jewish Federation of subsidizing kosher Meals on Wheels will be so exorbitant – and the demand so little, that the Federation will simply opt out of subsidizing the meals altogether. After all, the Jewish Federation doesn’t subsidize the cost of kosher meat for everyone. There are many low-income members of our community who would probably appreciate receiving help to buy kosher meat. One might lead to ask: Why is it that only kosher Meals on Wheels are subsidized by the Federation?