Gail Backman's Pontiac Grand Am smelled like oregano and tomato sauce. • It was Wednesday, her day on the East Pasco Meals On Wheels delivery route through the mobile home parks of Zephyrhills. She and fellow volunteer Dotty Boivin cruised by American flags, Airstreams and towels drying on the line.
In the Grand Am's backseat, two coolers were loaded with fruit cups, puddings and Styrofoam containers of spaghetti.
Those coolers are getting harder to fill.
For the past 30-plus years, East Pasco Meals on Wheels, which is not affiliated with any other Meals on Wheels program, has earned about half of its income recycling newspapers and aluminum cans. The rest of the funding comes from private donations and meal payments.
The nonprofit used to make almost $4,000 on a truckload of newsprint bound for the recycler. Now, they're getting less than $700.
That payment could drop even further in the future.
"It's simple supply and demand economics," said Steve Lengefeld, procurement manager of SP Recycling, which has bought East Pasco's newspaper and cans for about 20 years. "Folks are just not consuming the raw materials ... Prices are obviously going to drop."
Just one more side effect of the current economic slowdown.
"It hit us, and it hit us pretty hard," said Backman, who also serves on the nonprofit's board of directors.
Two office workers and two cooks are East Pasco's only paid staff.
Over a week, almost 100 volunteers park in front of the nonprofit's humble white office and load up their cars with $4 lunches for the area's homebound and elderly residents.
Volunteers do not receive gas compensation. Some drive for more than an hour and a half to reach their share of the 110 names on East Pasco's customer list.
Wednesday, Backman, 69, and Boivin, 80, saw 12 people. They interrupted a man watching Star Trek and a family packing the belongings of an elderly father who could not live alone anymore.
The volunteers know who is recovering from foot surgery, who is on dialysis and who is dating a neighbor. A few folks won't let them in the front door, others won't let them leave.
"Some of these people ... I am the only person they see that day," Backman said.
This has been her route for seven years. As she drives, she points out former clients who moved back north or into nursing homes.
Some have died.
"You get attached," Backman said.
This week, East Pasco Meals On Wheels sent out letters about the nonprofit's "dire financial crisis" to local businesses.
"I hate to do it because I know they're hurting too," director Cindy Beson said.
In the letter, the phrases "we are not government funded" and "urgent need" were written in bold type.
So was "needs a stamp."
East Pasco Meals on Wheels could not afford the postage for the self addressed donation envelope it included with the letter.
Helen Anne Travis can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 435-7312.