FARGO — After 49 years, North Dakota State University will no longer be preparing dinners for the Meals on Wheels program and for the other 11 senior citizen meal sites in Fargo.
The university said in a letter to the Fargo Park District, which operates the programs through its Valley Senior Services, that its residence dining hall kitchen is becoming too small to serve both students and the senior citizen programs.
NDSU also said it’s planning to remodel the dining hall kitchen starting next May, but has no plans to enlarge the kitchen and will focus on providing meals only to students.
Brian Arett, who directs Valley Senior Services, said the senior meal program had its second highest number of meals served in June with about 28,000, only behind the previous mark a month earlier in May of about 28,500.
“It’s off the map,” said Arett about the 15% increase in meals served during the pandemic as seniors are more often staying home to eat.
Meals on Wheels delivers nutritional and balanced meals to about 400 senior citizens daily in Fargo, allowing seniors to stay in their own homes longer as they age. Another 300 meals daily are delivered to the 11 meal sites in the city. Due to the coronavirus, those meals are only allowed to be picked up.
He said federal CARES Act funds as well as about $100,000 in grants from foundations have kept the senior meal program financially sound.
However, he said they need more volunteers to deliver meals. Each volunteer, he said, only has to drop off about 10 to 12 meals and it only takes about an hour of time from the time meals are picked up to when the program container is returned.
Arett said children can also enjoy the program by helping with deliveries and visiting briefly with the senior citizens.
NDSU originally wanted to end the program July 31, but Arett said they have received an extension until March if they need it. The university also raised the cost for each meal from $4.60 to $4.97 for Meals on Wheels dinners and from $4 to $4.08 for meal site dinners.
Currently, ads are going out to vendors in the city to take over the meal preparation. Arett said there are probably five to six vendors in the city who could handle the job that requires a lot of staff, a large kitchen and trucks.
Arett had nothing but positive things to say about the relationship with NDSU over the past almost 50 years.
“They’ve grown with us and have been so supportive,” he said. “They’ve done an incredible job.”