Mat-Su Senior Services is getting a big financial boost to help feed hungry seniors in the Valley.

The Mat-Su Health Foundation gave the organization a $375,000 grant towards its Meals on Wheels program.

Every morning, volunteers form an assembly line in the kitchen, packing up more than 200 hot meals; each is tailored to a person's dietary needs.

"There are some people who can't have milk, can't have sugar, can't have bread," explained kitchen manager Phyllis Moore.

Last year volunteers dished up more than 60,000 meals, and the need for meals is up 20 percent this year.

Mat-Su Senior Services has struggled with funding, losing $1 million through state and federal funding cuts. Grant money from the Mat-Su Health Foundation will help make up the budget gap, allowing the center to keep delivering food through the end of its fiscal year this summer.

"These seniors are our family and they need what we offer here," Moore said. "They need to feel independent."

Drivers like Lee Truesdell volunteer their time to get the meals where they need to go. He has 32 people on his route in north Wasilla.

"As long as I have my good health, I can do something to help someone else who doesn't. And it sure has proved to be worthwhile," Truesdell said.

He said he's made some good friends over his past year of volunteering. He'll drop off the meals and bring a couple of treats for any dogs in the home.

"The dogs make the route worth doing too," he laughed. "Dogs and cats, I like them both. But I don't get a chance to give the cats any treats."

The meals make a difference for seniors like Charles Nyreen and his wife, who have to spend a good portion of their income on medication.

"It ends up being real spendy, and there's times where we'll go a couple of days where this is the only meal we have," Nyreen said.

Then there's Joan Gatzke, who appreciates the help while she recovers from a broken shoulder.

"The food is good and in my case I'm really not able to do a lot (of) cooking," she said. "If I didn't have this good meal I would have to use TV dinners most of the time."

The Mat-Su Health Foundation also gave funding for two other Meals on Wheels programs: $112,000 to Wasilla Area Seniors and $61,000 to Upper Susitna Seniors.

For Moore, the funding means seniors won't have to worry where their next meal will come from.

"If you need a meal and you're not in our route, you come see us and we'll make sure you get fed," she said.

Mat-Su Senior Services' phone number is 907-745-5454. Details on meals served at its facility or delivered, as well as eligibility requirements, are listed on its website.

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