District ‘handi-van’ running out of gas

The Emo Meals on Wheels program, currently funded almost exclusively by the township, may become a thing of the past without an infusion of capital, it was learned last week.
A meeting May 18 with the Meals on Wheels committee and Emo Reeve Russ Fortier revealed the 10-year-old van currently being used to provide hot meals to shut-ins, as well as transport seniors from all parts of the district to doctors’ appointments in Fort Frances, soon will be pulled off the road due to excessive wear and tear.
Meals on Wheels bookkeeper Geneva Veldhuisen told the committee last night that not only will the aging vehicle have to be replaced, but additional funding will be necessary to maintain the service at an affordable cost to its clients.
“We’re a charity,” said Veldhuisen. “We’re not here to rip people off, but we have to be responsible.”
“To have seniors from Stratton come all the way to Fort Frances at cost would be way too much,” she added.
Seniors currently are paying only a fraction of the true cost to be transported from distant locations to hospitals and clinics in places such as Fort Frances.
To date, most of the subsidy has come from the Township of Emo.
“We’re so small here, we don’t really have the means to operate it,” Veldhuisen said.
The handi-van in use has more than 300,000 kilometres on it—much of it over rough back roads—and the maintenance costs have become unsustainable.
Veldhuisen said a replacement vehicle could cost from $70,000-$80,000.
Matters are further complicated by the loss of the contract to carry special-needs students who attend Donald Young School in Emo and Crossroads School in Devlin.
Funding from the school boards was an important source of revenue for the service.
Reeve Fortier expressed concern that Emo continues to bear an inordinate proportion of the cost, and said he intended to raise the issue at the next meeting of the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board in order to get other municipalities to chip in.
“We should track the real cost and get the [other] municipalities to subsidize it,” he said.
“We have an aging population and a need for this service,” he added. “We have to put some value on our seniors.”
In addition to a new vehicle, the program also requires volunteers to deliver meals to shut-ins. Since meals are delivered in the middle of the day, it has been difficult to find people with that time at their disposal.
Reeve Fortier suggested it might be possible for high school students to meet some of their community-service requirements to graduate by volunteering.
But the questions came back to the van. Veldhuisen stressed the need for considerable additional support from other users to purchase and maintain a new vehicle.
“In order to have another van, we have to have almost full funding,” she remarked.