Bush wants budget boost for Meals on Wheels

Beulah McField, executive director of Cayman Islands Meals on Wheels, sorts food donated by the Cayman Motorcycle Riders Association.
Beulah McField, executive director of Cayman Islands Meals on Wheels, sorts food donations.

Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush has suggested increasing the amount of money the Cayman Islands government provides to Meals of Wheels, which brings food to elderly residents who are home-bound or financially strapped.

Mr. Bush said he believes the government could increase its annual donation of $52,000 for the program to at least $150,000 or $200,000 per year.

Mr. Bush submitted a private members’ motion to the Legislative Assembly asking government to increase funding for the program, although the motion does not put a specific dollar value on the request.

It costs more than $300,000 per year to keep the charity running, Mr. Bush said, including $260,000 spent on food and supplies and $52,000 for administrative costs.

“People have to eat every day,” said Mr. Bush.

Community Affairs Minister Osbourne Bodden said Thursday during the debate on Mr. Bush’s private members’ motion that government would support the request to increase funding. However, he noted he could not fund the program to the extent the opposition leader was asking. Mr. Bodden indicated the amount to be received would be somewhat less than $80,000. All present House members voted to support the motion.

“Budget, budget, budget … things are extremely tight,” Mr. Bodden said, adding that he regretted government could not do more immediately.

Mr. Bush said he was disappointed government couldn’t manage to find more funds.

The program currently feeds about 70 residents in George Town, 47 in Bodden Town, 48 in East End and 11 in West Bay.

Mr. Bush said the meals program, run by Beulah McField, already receives substantial private sector donations of both cash and food. Any expansion of the program would be impossible, given its current funding levels, he said. The opposition leader credited Ms. McField for “opening his eyes” to the situation of some Cayman Islands seniors about 15 years ago when he first took the reins of government.

“While I knew that poverty existed, I didn’t think it had reached the levels that it had,” Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush, the senior representative in the legislature from West Bay, also noted that the elderly in West Bay district are currently under-served by the program because it does not have a kitchen in the district. Meals on Wheels operates kitchens in East End, Bodden Town and George Town.

Ms. McField has often said that it is impossible, at today’s prices, for Cayman seniors on a $550 a month stipend from government to afford nutritious food.

In late 2013, financial difficulties threatened the closure of the charity. Since then, donations have increased and Meals on Wheels has continued operation, albeit on narrow financial margins.

Ms. McField said Meals on Wheels staff usually prepare some 170 meals per day at a cost of about $5 per meal.