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Oklahoma senior citizens find new meal delivery service unappetizing

Senior citizens in southern Oklahoma who particpate in a government funded meal program that delivers meals to their homes are upset that they are now receiving refrigerated meals like this from an Iowa-based company.
Senior citizens in southern Oklahoma who particpate in a government funded meal program that delivers meals to their homes are upset that they are now receiving refrigerated meals like this from an Iowa-based company.

Many senior citizens in 10 southern Oklahoma counties are miffed over a decision by the Southern Oklahoma Development Association to switch its home-delivered senior meals program to an out-of-state company that ships boxed, refrigerated meals.

"I took it for two deliveries and that was all," said Jewell Ammons, 89, of Wilson. "I couldn't handle it anymore."

For more than 40 years, senior citizens in southern Oklahoma were able to get hot meals delivered to their homes on weekdays. The meals were prepared by nonprofit Southern Oklahoma Nutrition Program, the same group that cooks the meals for senior nutrition centers located throughout the 10-county region.

Meal recipients said friendly drivers would deliver the meals to their doors and carry them inside if requested, doing little things like pouring their milk and laying their silverware out on the table. For blind clients, meal deliverers would even take the time to make sure they knew the types of foods they were being served and where they were located on their plates. Program participants also had the option of receiving grocery store type items they could use to prepare their own meals or frozen dinners.

That all changed after SODA's governing board decided to solicit separate bids for senior nutrition center meals and home delivery meals. The Southern Oklahoma Nutrition Program retained the contract for the nutrition center meals, but the home delivery meal contract was awarded to an Iowa-based company called Mom's Meals.

The switch occurred July 1 and the complaints have been numerous.

Mom's Meals doesn't deliver daily hot meals. Instead, nutrition program participants receive a large box containing two weeks worth of meals that are designed to be refrigerated until time to put them in a microwave or warm them up on a stove or in an oven.

Depending on where the senior citizen is located, the meals may be delivered by a Mom's Meals truck driver, FedEx or some other delivery service.

Ammons said all those things pose problems.

"To start with, when they deliver it they put it on the porch," she said. "I have to use a walker and I have to prop the door open, take my walker out there, lift that box ... onto my walker, push it back into the house ... and then I have to take it over to the refrigerator."

"And this is an ungodly amount of food, because it's for 14 days," she said. "And then there's powdered milk, and that's not good."

"And then you have to heat the meal every day and some people are not even able to use a microwave," she said. "I would heat mine in the microwave like the directions said and, 'oh, my,' the green beans would still be raw and everything just taste awful. Some of it would still be cold on one side and warm on the other."

Steve Mills, SODA's executive director, acknowledged his agency has received numerous complaints, but said he has also heard from people who like the new provider.

"People's tastes, it's always hard to please everybody," he said. "We all tried it. If you go to the store and buy a frozen meal or what we used to call a TV dinner, it's very similar to that."

Mills said SODA decided to take separate bid proposals for nutrition center meals and home delivered meals in hopes of increasing competition.

Mom's Meals proposed making deliveries farther out into some of the rural areas, which impressed evaluators, he said.

Mom's Meals also lets people choose the meals they want, rather than having to take whatever the nutrition centers are serving that day, he said.

"If they are diabetic, they can choose a diabetic menu, and so on," Mills said. "There's good and bad on both sides."

"They deliver tens of thousands of meals across this state every day," he said. "We didn't ... turn it over to some fly-by-night, out-of-state company."

SODA's decision to award the one-year contract to Mom's Meals is currently being appealed to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, which has oversight responsibilities for the federally funded senior nutrition program. A hearing is expected around mid December, an agency spokeswoman said.

Attorney Erik Johnson, who filed the appeal on behalf of the Southern Oklahoma Nutrition Program, contends the bids weren't properly evaluated and that his client was proposing to provide meals at a cost to the government of $5.03 a meal vs. $5.15 per meal being charged by Mom's Meals.

"The SONP bid amounts were manipulated by SODA staff by the erroneous addition of prior year donation amounts to make the SONP bid appear higher," he alleged.

Mills disputes that.

Johnson said SODA is one of 11 similar regional governing boards in the state, and SODA is the only one to split the bid between home delivered meals and meals served at senior citizens centers.

"Financially, a congregate meal program cannot survive without the financial support of the home delivered meals program," he said. "Without the funding provided by the home delivered meals program, the SONP congregate meal program will close. This will put 50-plus Oklahomans out of work, while lining the pockets of a for-profit meal program in Iowa."

Johnson said the Southern Oklahoma Nutrition Program was awarded $462,241 to provide meals at senior nutrition centers, while Mom's Meals was awarded more than $702,000 to provide home delivered meals, even though the request for proposals said only $669,343 was available for home delivered meals.

"Now our budget has been cut more than in half, so we're struggling financially to try to stay afloat here," said Pat Peay, director of the Southern Oklahoma Nutrition Program. "It's horrible. ... There have been people who have begged to come back to our program and for us to help them out."

The Southern Oklahoma Nutrition Program served about 2,300 customers last fiscal year, providing about 60,000 meals at senior nutrition centers and about 108,000 home delivered meals, she said.

Related Photos
<strong>This meal of spaghetti and meatballs and mixed vegatables is one of the refrigerated meal choices offered for home delivery by Iowa-based Mom's Meals.</strong>

This meal of spaghetti and meatballs and mixed vegatables is one of the refrigerated meal choices offered for home delivery by Iowa-based Mom's Meals.

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-7b959468302f6acb6cacf7ef286e876f.jpg" alt="Photo - This meal of spaghetti and meatballs and mixed vegatables is one of the refrigerated meal choices offered for home delivery by Iowa-based Mom's Meals. " title=" This meal of spaghetti and meatballs and mixed vegatables is one of the refrigerated meal choices offered for home delivery by Iowa-based Mom's Meals. "><figcaption> This meal of spaghetti and meatballs and mixed vegatables is one of the refrigerated meal choices offered for home delivery by Iowa-based Mom's Meals. </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-db67a92d2ab509c9aea0b8392c913775.jpg" alt="Photo - Senior citizens in southern Oklahoma who used to have locally cooked meals delivered to their homes through a government program are now receiving prepackaged, refrigerated meals like this from an Iowa-based company. " title=" Senior citizens in southern Oklahoma who used to have locally cooked meals delivered to their homes through a government program are now receiving prepackaged, refrigerated meals like this from an Iowa-based company. "><figcaption> Senior citizens in southern Oklahoma who used to have locally cooked meals delivered to their homes through a government program are now receiving prepackaged, refrigerated meals like this from an Iowa-based company. </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-96dad9b0ba88f160132206d86ebac2cf.jpg" alt="Photo - Many senior citizens in southern Oklahoma who had become accustomed to having hot, locally cooked meals delivered to their homes are not happy that they are now receiving boxes of refrigerated dinners like this one from an Iowa-based company. " title=" Many senior citizens in southern Oklahoma who had become accustomed to having hot, locally cooked meals delivered to their homes are not happy that they are now receiving boxes of refrigerated dinners like this one from an Iowa-based company. "><figcaption> Many senior citizens in southern Oklahoma who had become accustomed to having hot, locally cooked meals delivered to their homes are not happy that they are now receiving boxes of refrigerated dinners like this one from an Iowa-based company. </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-9357aeb41057e2a337b23f41f9e9eaba.jpg" alt="Photo - Senior citizens in southern Oklahoma who particpate in a government funded meal program that delivers meals to their homes are upset that they are now receiving refrigerated meals like this from an Iowa-based company. " title=" Senior citizens in southern Oklahoma who particpate in a government funded meal program that delivers meals to their homes are upset that they are now receiving refrigerated meals like this from an Iowa-based company. "><figcaption> Senior citizens in southern Oklahoma who particpate in a government funded meal program that delivers meals to their homes are upset that they are now receiving refrigerated meals like this from an Iowa-based company. </figcaption></figure>
Randy Ellis

For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two... Read more ›

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