UCHRA officials are weighing their options as its nutrition program continues to struggle financially.
Executive Director Mark Farley said costs and previous financial decisions under past administration has plagued the program.
“We’ve had an issue running the nutrition program for some time. This is not anything that has just happened,” Farley said. “This has been one of the programs that has sort of nagged this agency. Just because of the size of our region, the number of clients we’re serving, it makes it cost-inefficient, and we’re just struggling to make the program viable financially.”
Last year the UCHRA moved away from a single-location for meal preparation and decided to distribute those efforts to its county sites with volunteers.
“One of the main things we did was try and fix our costs when it came to the food and the food prep process,” Farley said. “We went out and we’ve actually contracted and get meals that are already prepared, they just have to be cooked at each one of our sites. Obviously that would fix our costs and we know exactly what we’re dealing with. We don’t have that fluctuation from month-to-month.”
Farley said the UCHRA tried shifting the program’s focus to volunteer workers to help cut delivery costs, but the agency hasn’t seen any major improvements.
“We’ve tried to make that move toward volunteers. We’re still struggling to have consistency with that,” Farley said. “Anytime you’re dealing with volunteers, you’re at their mercy whether they show up to serve that day. We’re appreciative of everything that they do for us, but there’s time where we don’t have anyone to cover so we have those issues as well.”
The agency had previously stated last fall that the program – which at one point had a deficit of almost $250,000 – saw slight improvements through the fiscal year’s first quarter.
Farley said the agency will consider their options regarding the future operation of the program.
“We’re trying to determine if we’re the best agency to move forward and continue doing that,” Farley said. “It may be that we are the best option for our region, and if so, we’ll continue on in trying to solve it and get it worked out. It may be that somebody can do it better than us. And if that’s the case, I’m not afraid to step back and say we’re not the right one for that role. But we’re trying to determine what options are available.”
Farley wants to ensure the program’s clients and employees that the agency will continue to put them first when making their decision.
Financial issues within the UCHRA’s nutrition program date back to former UCHRA Executive Director Luke Collins. The State Department of Transportation released an audit report last year that revealed nearly $130,000 in departmental grants were used by the UCHRA to pay nutrition program salaries.