Meals on Wheels makes fundraising push

By Angela Strader

DURHAM, N.C. – Summer volunteer setbacks, combined with recent funding cuts, are placing added pressure on Meals on Wheels of Durham to meet its latest fundraising goal.

“It’s very unnerving going into each year,” says Mark Prokop, the group’s executive director.  “Everything is just so unknown, and it’s almost like every day you wonder if you’re going to have enough money.”

While most college-student volunteers have gone elsewhere for the summer and regular volunteers are taking vacations, the nonprofit’s client base is increasing, as is the need for funds.

With a volunteer corps of roughly 200 people, Meals on Wheels loses a large portion of its drivers during the summer, leaving Prokop and the group’s other three employees to juggle tasks.

And recently, funding from sources, including the Federal Emergency Management Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, have dropped and in some cases ceased altogether.

With an estimated 82,000 meals to be served during fiscal year 2007, Meals on Wheels now is in dire need of volunteers, donations and sponsors, Prokop says.

That places added urgency on the group’s latest fundraising campaign, launched in March with a challenge grant from the Raleigh-based A.J. Fletcher Foundation, which will kick in $5,000 if the group can raise $35,000 from new donors by Dec. 31.

As of now, less than a third of that amount has been raised.

Prokop says he is unsure if the organization will be able to reach the goal, and is considering experimenting with the Valpak mailing system, typically used to distribute business coupons, to solicit more than 30,000 people for donations.

In addition to making a few meal deliveries himself, Prokop struggles to find time for grantwriting, he says, but plans to attend state and federal employee-giving campaign events over the next couple of months to raise additional funds.

Two events to be held Oct. 13, on “Make a Difference Day,” should help, too, he says.

Supporters will gather at Triangle Town Center in Raleigh to collect donations, distribute information and recruit volunteers.

And in Durham, volunteers will sell $5 coupons redeemable at Macy’s, with proceeds benefiting Meals on Wheels.

Since its inception in 1975, the charity has served over 1.5 million meals to Durham County residents unable to provide meals for themselves.

With the help of volunteers and financial supporters, Prokop says, the organization will be able to continue improving the quality of life for its clients.

“We’re just trying to keep our heads out of the water,” he says.

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