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Sixty people are awaiting service through Meals on Wheels East Texas, the organization confirmed Wednesday.

“In East Texas, we have 60 homebound seniors pending enrollment within our program,” Kari Kietzer, the CEO, said in a news release.

“We continue to see a growing need for seniors in our community,” she said. “This is the main reason we will urge lawmakers to advance legislation and policies that strengthen home-delivered programs and the seniors we serve.”

Kietzer sent the release while attending a statewide Meals on Wheels conference in Austin. She called on lawmakers to advance legislation that increases funding for senior meal programs, which she said has only increased by 7 cents since 1993.

In interviews with the Tyler Morning Telegraph on Monday, two seniors said they have been waiting for months without explanation to get food delivered to their homes through Meals on Wheels East Texas.

One is a recent stroke survivor in Tyler who says she has called the organization and not received an answer. The other lives on the outskirts of Winnsboro and says he called as recently as Monday.

Birdie Curley, 81, said one of her nurses called Meals on Wheels at the end of February and didn’t hear anything back. After that, she said she called, and a man answered, who connected her to another line, where no one picked up.

“(My nurse has) called several times from here, and she told me to call them every day, but I didn’t do it because she called and this man will answer and put her on the other line, but nobody ever answered,” Curley said.

Curley said she has been seeking meals after having a stroke Feb. 16 and spending a few days in the hospital.

“I’m having to try to do it myself," she said. "I couldn’t get a provider or anything, so I’m having to do it myself.”

Lenoye Petty, 73, of Winnsboro, said he has been waiting about a month or two for meals. He said his doctor recommends getting the service because she wants him to have at least one quality meal a day. He called Monday and as of that day didn't have meals.

“My doctor says I should have at least one good meal a day, and sometimes I go without eating,” Petty said. He said he received a call from someone who said she would get back with him, but hasn’t heard anything yet.

“I do my own cooking, what little I do,” Petty said. “I mostly eat snacks.” He said he’s able to get snacks to prepare when he travels into town once a month and uses his food stamps.

Wednesday’s news release said the Texas House has adopted a $7.8 million rider in legislation to increase funding for home-delivered meals, which will translate to more meals and services for more seniors.

“We want to ensure that local communities are able to meet the needs of the growing number of seniors and provide the support that enables them to live more nourished lives with the independence and dignity they deserve,” Kietzer said. "At the same time, programs like ours also save taxpayer dollars."

Meals on Wheels East Texas had a waiting list back in 2008, which marked the first time in 35 years that the organization had one, according to newspaper archives. At the time, organization leaders attributed the list to rising fuel costs and a reduced number of volunteers. To meet the need, local businesses teamed up with the organization to help deliver meals.

The organization has been under scrutiny in recent weeks after the funding agency sent a letter April 5 to its board of directors saying the organization was in violation of the senior nutrition contract because the CEO was simultaneously serving as chair of the board.

The organization issued a news release the next day announcing board changes. On Monday, John Genung, a local attorney, was listed as the chairman of the board on the organization’s website.

TWITTER and INSTAGRAM: @_erinmansfield

Government Reporter

Erin came to Tyler from Vermont, where she worked for VTDigger.org and previously the Rutland Herald. She received her B.A. in Economics and Spanish from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where she also attended journalism school.

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