Local news

Meal providers clash over contract

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 16, 2011

Mid-City Concerns’ Meals on Wheels, the nonprofit agency dedicated to feeding Spokane’s elderly, poor and disabled residents, will no longer receive government funding after a disagreement with Valley Meals on Wheels.

The schism between the two nonprofit organizations came after Valley Meals on Wheels won the state contract to feed the elderly and homebound in all of Spokane County, a contract held for three decades by the Spokane Regional Health District.

Mid-City found itself having to negotiate a subcontract deal with its former funding competitor, Valley Meals on Wheels, which made demands Mid-City said it just couldn’t swallow.

Not the least of these demands was limitations on Mid-City’s use of the name “Meals on Wheels,” particularly in fundraising.

Mollie Dalpae, Mid-City Concerns’ executive director, said this would have put the agency’s ability to raise money in jeopardy.

Valley Meals on Wheels executive director Pam Almeida said the demand was necessary to avoid confusion among the public about the two similarly named organizations.

“They could use the name, but they had to make it clear which organization they were talking about,” Almeida said.

Dalpae said Valley Meals on Wheels also demanded ownership of all its records, access to its delivery vehicles and premises, and the authority to fire its employees and place limits on its fundraising efforts.

“The board for Mid-City had previously discussed our need to head in the direction away from public funding,” Dalpae said. “This was just the final push we needed.”

Almeida said that many of the terms her agency asked of Mid-City are required under its contract with Aging and Long Term Care of Eastern Washington. An attorney recommended that Valley Meals on Wheels have a say in which Mid-City employees are permitted to work under its contract.

Though Almeida declined to say so, it is possible her agency has concerns about being linked to Mid-City, which two years ago found itself the victim of theft by its own employees.

In 2009, former Mid-City Concerns executive director Cheri Anne Mataya-Muncton and co-worker Rachelle Solomon pleaded guilty to first-degree theft after an audit revealed more than $80,000 was missing from the agency’s account. The two were ordered to pay restitution but received no jail time or probation.

Dalpae said Mid-City Concerns intends to raise $240,000 this year in order to continue serving 15,000 meals annually at its downtown senior center, 1222 W. Second Ave. It also delivers 78,000 meals a year to homebound seniors.

“We have the ability. We have the infrastructure. We have the volunteers and donors to support us,” Dalpae said.

This will put the meal provider in direct competition with Valley Meals on Wheels, which plans to continue serving meals countywide, including downtown Spokane.

It already operates a meal site two days a week at the Delaney Apartments, 242 W. Riverside Ave., and hopes to open another downtown site soon to operate five days a week. The agency is looking for more volunteers.

Under its contract, Valley Meals on Wheels will receive $621,000 from the state this year, about half the cost of serving 67,200 meals on site and delivering 148,212 meals to the homebound.

It intends to raise the rest of the needed funds through public and private grants and donations, as well as modest fees to clients who can afford to pay.

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