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Gov’t policy change threatens gaming grant for Port Alberni’s Meals on Wheels program

Program will have to totally revamp in order to retain gaming grant eligibility: board president
Volunteer Meals on Wheels drivers Rose DeGruchy, Gord Nickerson, and Clark Cameron wait to be called in to pick up the totes for delivery on Saturday, March 21, 2020. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

When Wholesome Meals on Wheels in Port Alberni received their annual gaming grant in November 2021, it came with an unwelcome surprise.

In addition to their grant they received a letter saying their application as it was submitted will not be eligible for funding during the next intake due to an update to the grant policy. Wholesome Meals on Wheels president Dawna Sawyer said that after years of receiving an annual community gaming grant to help provide a discount on meals and pay two employees, they probably won’t get another one unless they revise their program.

The grant was for $19,800, which was less than what the non-profit had requested, and what they have received in previous years. The letter from the Community Gaming Branch stated that funding was provided even though the program was ineligible “in an effort to provide notice of the updated policy.”

Meals on Wheels in Port Alberni has received gaming grants for at least the past decade, Sawyer said. She has been involved with Meals on Wheels since 2014 and president for the past two years.

Further confusion ensued when Mid Island-Pacific Rim MLA Josie Osborne’s office sent information to numerous media outlets about gaming grants without specifying the grants were awarded during the fiscal year, which ended in March 2022. The announcement made it sound like Meals on Wheels received grant money for 2022 when they had told people the opposite, Sawyer said.

An NDP spokesperson later clarified that gaming grants are typically distributed between November and March. “This year” included late 2021. She said the Community Gaming Grants program would work with Meals on Wheels to bring their application into compliance.

Sawyer said that would mean charging people a delivery fee for the meals instead of a nominal payment per meal. There would also be no guarantee that they would receive gaming grant funding for 2022. So the Meals on Wheels board began searching for other funding. Alberni Valley Community Foundation has helped, and the 100+ Women Who Care — Alberni recently donated $14,000 to Meals on Wheels.

Although there are similar programs on Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, they are all funded in a different manner. Sawyer has reached out to other groups to find out how they have dealt with smaller community gaming grants as well as the change in eligibility. Other programs are also losing out, she said.

“What (the provincial government) has done is taken away the gaming grants and come up with the Recovery and Resiliency Fund that makes it sound like they are helping people who lost their gaming grants. But then you have to go into a lottery system where there is no guarantee you will get funding.”

Meals on Wheels coordinators Janet Buchanan and Karen Hutchinson have the meals ready for delivery in the old brewery area of Chances Rimrock Gaming Centre. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

Susie Quinn

About the Author: Susie Quinn

A journalist since 1987, I proudly serve as the Alberni Valley News editor.
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