When public sector budgets are being crafted, every dollar is a decision. Where money is allocated — say, toward education, roads or the Turtle Farm — is an indication of the value placed on that subject or cause.
In that context, ranking at or near the bottom of government’s list of priorities are the hundreds of elderly Caymanians who are hungry, isolated and vulnerable.
Cayman Islands officials regularly indulge in long-winded homages to our country’s heritage and history, but when it comes to funding programs that care for the people whose legacy is the society of today, the clatter of spare change resounds far more loudly than any speech.
Our senior citizens can’t eat lip service.
Many people in the community understand that, including the staff (two) and volunteers (more than 100) of Cayman Islands Meals on Wheels, who prepare and deliver hot, nutritious and free lunches every day to seniors around Grand Cayman. They go from door to door, bringing plates — not platitudes.
Often, the meal is a means for volunteers to offer other forms of assistance, whether that’s bringing seniors medications, caring for their pets or simply checking on their welfare. Sometimes, the Meals on Wheels volunteer is the only human being that an elderly person sees on a regular basis.
Meals on Wheels Executive Director Beulah McField has helped lead the effort for 19 years, during which time the charity’s client list has grown from 14 seniors to about 180.
Many of the people Meals on Wheels feeds (including every one of the 47 senior clients in East End) have been referred to the organization by government’s social welfare agencies, which either are not equipped to provide immediate aid or whose remit is a different demographic.
Meals on Wheels operates on a budget (not counting administrative costs) of about $200,000 per year, translating to a per-meal cost of $5, from the grocery store shelves to the seniors’ homes. Of that, the government provides a mere $52,000.
That represents one-one thousandth of the government’s $50 million in expenses on social welfare assistance programs.
On top of its current client list, Meals on Wheels has identified more than 160 people who need assistance in West Bay and North Side. Serving those people will require two new food preparation facilities. A capital fundraising campaign for a combined George Town/West Bay kitchen is expected to be launched shortly.
In order to help expand its services into all districts across Grand Cayman, last year Meals on Wheels went to government, hat in hand, and asked for a sizeable increase in its subsidy — an additional $88,000 per year.
Government gave the organization $8,000.
This year, Meals on Wheels again requested the additional funding. This time, officials said, “No.” Government, they said, doesn’t have the money.
Keep in mind that Cayman’s annual public sector revenues are about $880 million — untold millions of which are lavished on losing enterprises such as the Turtle Farm and Cayman Airways, are dissipated through bureaucratic inefficiencies, or are outright squandered in ways that only become known, ex post facto, through auditors’ reports.
Some seniors are unable to leave their home to exchange vouchers for groceries. Some cannot cook any more. Some are surviving on crackers … or even dog food. (Ms. McField can attest to that.) Somewhere in Cayman, someone’s grandmother isn’t just hungry — she’s starving.
Sorry, government can’t afford to help.
On April 9, Meals on Wheels is holding its annual Orange You Glad Gala fundraiser at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort. Given the government’s lack of commitment, support from the private sector is even more urgently needed.
Several years ago, the organization had run out of funds and faced the prospect of closing its kitchens in East End and Bodden Town, leaving scores of seniors to go hungry. At the time, Cayman residents stepped up with cash donations and offers of assistance — including, notably, local developer Joe Imparato, who is on the board of directors, and son Rob, who is now chairman of the board.
We trust that individuals and companies will answer this call as they have done in the past, and continue to do, because caring for our seniors is a most noble and worthy cause indeed. Our community recognizes that, even if our officials do not.