The Executive Committee of the Barron County Board of Supervisors approved a request by Jennifer Jako, director of the Aging and Disabilty Resource Center, to apply for a $2 million grant to build a new kitchen for its growing home-delivered meals program.
Jako said the Wisconsin Department of Administration, through funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, announced Sept. 30 that grant monies are available with applications due Nov. 4.
The grant intent is for local and tribal governments for purposes of making significant investments with long-term benefits to help neighborhoods recover from negative effects of the pandemic.
Capital investments, such as construction of buildings, are eligible. A match from the county is not required, and applications can be withdrawn at any time.
The director said home-delivered meals were a critical service during the pandemic — and still are.
She said 380-400 meals are now being made daily at Ventures, Inc. of Cameron, a commercial kitchen it has used for the past eight years, with both the space needed and staffing required at capacity.
The director said with the number of residents age 60 and over ever increasing — from 20% of the county’s population in 2015 to a projected 30% by 2040 — a larger facility is needed to meet the demand.
Jako said she has toured the kitchens at UW-EC-Barron County, the former Red Cedar School on Ann Street in Rice Lake and the county jail, but the college kitchen is not larger than what they are already using, the Ann Street school’s kitchen is small and would cost more to remodel than build new, and there would be too many logical issues to use the jail kitchen, which is already serving three meals a day.
The director said the only other options are to do nothing, which would create a waiting list to get on the meal program; or contracting out, which has pros and cons.
She showed a graph of the steady rise in home-delivered meals, which have increased from 46,529 in 2015 to 67,443 meals in 2020. She expects another jump by the end of 2021 as they were already at 54,000 as of Aug. 1.
“It could be 80,000 this year, and we are feeling the capacity crunch in the current kitchen,” Jako said.
If the grant is received and a larger kitchen built, likely behind the Justice Center, the director said it could also be used by county Public Health during future pandemics as a meeting room or drive-thru site, by Emergency Management as a headquarters during a possible disaster or garage for fleet and a back-up for the Sheriff’s Department kitchen.
Executive Committee chair Louie Okey asked if there was any downside to applying for the grant. Jako replied no, and that the meal program is by far the largest and most popular service of the Aging program. In a recent survey, 800 respondents ranked its most-used service as Meals On Wheels.
Jako said, “We see this grant as an opportunity for us to at least do the ask and try to get something moving.”