Operating on a fixed income is never easy, but what happens when seniors who depend on government services to stay in their homes find those services are cut back, or worse, stopped altogether?
Those intolerable outcomes are exactly what Elaine Shellenberger, executive director of Nutrition and Services for Seniors, is trying to prevent with this year’s third annual Nutrition and Services for Seniors Deliver the Difference Luncheon at the Event Centre on Thursday, May 1.
“Funding has been reduced, and it doesn’t pay for all the cost, so we have to do all we can to make up those costs,” Shellenberger said. “This year, we’re doing something special.”
Cost to attend the Deliver the Difference Luncheon on May 1 at the Event Centre is $50 per person, and attendees can pay at the door. The luncheon begins at 11:30 a.m.
Continuing Meals on Wheels’ mission of honoring and supporting seniors, Shellenberger and her staff are honoring military veterans whose own struggles during World War II and Vietnam helped pave the way for the freedoms we now enjoy.
Shellenberger says World War II veteran Murray Anderson, for one, has some stories to tell.
“He was a veteran in the Pacific area,” she said. Anderson will be one of three honorees at the Deliver the Difference Luncheon.
“I really don’t consider myself a hero,” said the soon to be 90-year-old Anderson. “I served in the Marine Corp and saw a lot of combat, but just did what they told me to do.” Born in a small town east of Paris in northeast Texas called Deport, Anderson said he grew up on a farm and lost his father two months before graduating high school, which left him taking care of the farm with his mother and two sisters.
“After I got the crops ready to harvest, I couldn’t harvest them because all the farm labor had gone to Camp Maxey that the Army was building near Paris for higher wages. I sold everything and moved my mothers and sisters to Dallas. After I got them settled, I joined the Marine Corps.”
Anderson came to Beaumont in 1958 and opened a Mutual of New York insurance agency.
And then there’s Lt. Gen. Marvin D. Brailsford who, with his wife, June, traveled the world during his time in the Army, serving in Germany, Vietnam and posts across the U.S.
A Burkeville native, Brailsford culminated his 33 years of military service as the Deputy Commanding General of the United States Army Material Command in 1992. This military man also distinguished himself in the private sector. Currently CEO of the Brailsford Group Inc., a management consulting company he formed in 1995, Brailsford is also a retired director of two publicly traded companies, Conn’s and Illinois Tool Works.
Brailsford is a deacon of the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Beaumont. He and his wife have three children, the late Marvin Jr., Keith, and Cynthia Brailsford Jordan. They have two grandchildren, Brittny and Anthony Brailsford.
The third Nutrition and Services for Seniors honoree is June Samuel Brailsford herself. She’s a Charlton Pollard High School grad who received a bachelor’s in music from Prairie View A&M University. June taught at Lincoln Junior High School in Beaumont. She received a master’s degree in music from Trenton State College, N.J. and completed postgraduate courses at Lamar University, Jacksonville State University, Alabama and The Juilliard School in New York, City.
This teacher and mother of three is also a tireless volunteer, providing hundreds of hours of community service to several civic groups and educational initiatives. She has played a key leadership role in raising funds to provide scholarships for Beaumont High School students attending Prairie View A&M University and served on the Beaumont Historic Landmark Commission, the Beaumont Convention and Visitors Bureau and chaired the Fine Arts Academy of the Golden Triangle chapter of the Links, Incorporated. Her dedication to the community is even more evident as she has been committed to providing crucial support to the families of soldiers deployed overseas.
Shellenberger said it’s important for Southeast Texans to come to the luncheon to hear the stories from this year’s honorees because their stories aren’t unlike those of so many of the seniors served by Nutrition and Services for Seniors — seniors with their own stories of accomplishment, service and sacrifice. Moreover, attendance is important to the mission of Meals on Wheels to keep seniors in their homes by providing one meal a day.
“It’s very important because it allows our seniors to remain in their homes, which is cost effective for everybody. For us to serve a meal for a whole year to a homebound person is about $1,500 a year. For that person to go to a nursing home is over $40,000,” Shellenberger said. “It’s cost effective. Seniors do much better when they’re in their own home and their own environment. I think it’s just a healthy place for them to be, to be able to remain in their own homes.”
Not only does Meals on Wheels provide food to seniors, but those volunteers also give selflessly of their time and energy, often as the sole human contact many seniors see in their daily lives.
“That daily contact with somebody, somebody checking on them every day to tell whether they are coming to the door for three days in a row with the same clothes on or whether they’re disheveled or what their appearance is instead of contacting somebody — next of kin — to check on them,” Shellenberger said. “What we’ve found, many times, is relatives live out of town and we’ve become surrogate families to some of these seniors who are disabled. There might not be anybody, but us checking on them.”
Although those seniors who depend on Meals on Wheels might be glad to know government cutbacks to the program won’t affect current recipients, those Southeast Texans just now entering their golden years will likely not be able to receive meals, as estimated funding cuts of $50,000 to $60,000 have decimated hopes of expanding the program this year.
“When gas prices go up, we have no one to pass that cost on to because our services are suggested contributions, “Shellenberger said. “We don’t charge for the meals. So, with the funding being cut, we’re looking at not cutting services at this time, but not adding anything and maybe through attrition, reducing services that way.”
Some might think Meals on Wheels is paid in full by federal and state funds, but the funding is only partial, according to Shellenberger.
“Some people misunderstand the fact that we do receive some government funding, so we get all the funding we need, but that’s not true. It’s sort of seed money. So, they will give us x amount of money, but we have to raise the rest to cover the rest of the cost,” she said. “We don’t get reimbursed the full cost of (serving) a meal, so we have to be constantly raising funds to help cover that cost. And as we all know, the population is certainly aging. There are going to be more seniors, more disabled, so there will be more people needing services, not less.”
Keeping the meals healthy and balanced is one of the program’s main goals, Shellenberger said, and meals will be tailored for diabetics and those with other health problems.
“We can’t do lobster, unfortunately. Probably a lot of our seniors would be allergic to something like that,” she said. “But we’re doing between 1,500, 1,600 meals a day. So, we’re trying to prepare a menu that pleases everyone. Our meals are diabetic friendly, so anyone who has diabetes or just regular diet, they can get meals.”
If the program maintains a good base of volunteers and sponsors such as Karen and Mike Fuljenz — who are sponsoring the May 1 event — Shellenberger said Meals on Wheels will continue to survive despite continuous budget cuts and will continue to honor senior’s contributions to Southeast Texas society with events such as this.
“It’s important because the seniors are the ones who fought for us to have the freedoms we have today. I think we need to show our appreciation by honoring them at this time,” she said. “Not only that, but by supporting their ability to remain independent. I think we owe it to our seniors and disabled to do that.”
The Event Centre is at 700 Crockett St. in downtown Beaumont. For more information, call (409) 892-4455.