January 16, 2008
Luis Bella leaned against a 60-gallon soup kettle in the Meals on Wheels and More kitchen, watching the power brokers meet the media.
Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, and Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples gathered at the nonprofit on Tuesday to celebrate a new
$1.4 million grant to Austin’s Meals on Wheels. There were smiles, speeches, applause and promises.
But Bella — assistant manager of Valley Food Services, which runs the nonprofit’s kitchen — was focused on finishing a dish on Wednesday’s menu: chicken fiesta casserole.
Behind him, Mahalia Tardy sliced softball-sized onions. In another room, eight men and women prepared tossed salad and Mexican cornbread. No time to waste. Every day, Meals on Wheels’ kitchen staffers make more than 2,600 meals for seniors in Travis and Williamson counties.
“It’s nonstop,” Bella said. “We’re always getting food out and starting all over again.”
Last year, Texas lawmakers created the Home Delivered Meal Grant Program, which allocates $10 million a year for two years to agencies that deliver meals to elderly and homebound people. Austin’s Meals on Wheels received $1.4 million, which will allow the nonprofit — among other things — to provide another 200,000 meals to its clients.
Dan Pruett, president of Meals on Wheels and More, said other Texas cities fared well, too. Nearly 100 grants have been given to meal providers in cities such as Fort Worth, which received $1.2 million; San Antonio, which received $969,000; and San Angelo, which got $339,000.
The announcement comes a few week after Meals on Wheels learned that the money it receives each year from the United Way was cut by $50,000, from $140,000 to $90,000, as the United Way shifts its focus to education, financial stability and health programs.
The state money is great, Pruett said. But its also means extra work, staffers, services and delivery vans.
“We still need community support,” he said.
Bella leaves the number crunching to Pruett.
For him, it’s not about packing up a bunch of food for faceless clients.
Bella has delivered groceries to needy clients who take five minutes to slowly shuffle to the door. He’s changed light bulbs and air filters for elderly folks who can’t do it themselves.
These people are lonely, frail and so grateful for the help, Bella said. He tries to remember that with every meal he prepares.
“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “We know we’re helping people.”