MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Since 1978, Minnesota seniors have been able to count on them for a hot meal. But now the future of Meals on Wheels is in jeopardy.

It’s a bright spot in Betty Luebke’s day; a fresh hot lunch, delivered just for her. The cancer survivor still suffers the effects of chemotherapy and has a hard time cooking for herself.

“I can’t be near the stove because I have a tendency to burn things because of my memory loss,” Luebke said.

But the deliveries may soon stop arriving. A lack of funds forced four Twin Cities locations to close. And now another metro community is on the chopping block.

“We’re in the hole,” said Susan Dieseth, director of the Meals on Wheels Burnsville chapter.

Dieseth said the program is in debt by $2,000. She says community donations are down.

“I get it, times are tough, donors are having a hard time as much as we are,” she said.

Dieseth worries without the service, times may be toughest for seniors. The meals include milk, bread, fruit, a hot entrée and dessert. They’re balanced, healthy meals that seniors may not get otherwise.

“They need to be eating nutritious or they’re not going to be able to stay in their home, and our point is to help keep them in their home,” Dieseth said.

Meals on Wheels is also facing increased competition from for-profit companies. But Dieseth says those programs only deliver every two weeks and seniors don’t get the daily interaction.

Luebke looks forward to seeing her favorite volunteers.

“Some of the guys they get a big hug and a little kiss on the cheek. Makes you feel good and wanted,” she said. “I would be very lost without it.”

Organizers of the Burnsville program say without more money, they’ll likely have to close by July.

Lauren Edstrom, marketing director for Meals on Wheels Metro, released the following statement:

“There have been programs that have closed in the past few years, but neighboring programs have stepped in to ensure Meals on Wheels is available to seniors and people with disabilities in these communities.

We’re happy to report that no recipients have lost access to service as a result of these closures.”

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Kim Johnson