Roving Pantry to close without cash infusion

By Joe Stumpe | November 1, 2022

A program that deliveries groceries to older Wichitans will shut down unless $50,000 can be raised by Dec. 15, according to the nonprofit that operates it.

The Roving Pantry program has been around for more than 40 years. It has served 101 people in 2022 and currently is helping 77, said Laurel Alkire, executive director of Senior Services, Inc.

Alkire said participants are “unable to shop for themselves and have no one to do it for them.”

“I don’t know what’s going to happen to them,” she added.

Bill Brewer, 88, who’s used Roving Pantry about a decade, was dismayed to hear it might not be around much longer.

“Oh god, yes,” Brewer said when asked if he depends on it.

Brewer said the program provides about 90 percent of his weekly grocery shopping. He uses an electric scooter to get from his apartment to the nearby Dillon store at 13th and West Street, but he can go only grab a loaf of bread or half gallon of milk on his own. “Think of putting 12 toilet papers on that scooter,” he said.

Under the program, residents pay for their groceries, but Senior Services, Inc. employees pick up and deliver the food. Most residents pay two $3 fees — one to Senior Services and one to Dillon.

At its height, Roving Pantry served up to 250 people a year, with a stipend of $53,000 from the county. Alkire said participation started dropping in 2017 after the county required Senior Services to begin charging a sliding fee based on clients’ income. Some pay nothing while the most anyone pays is $5.

“Our numbers went way down and they’ve never gotten back up,” Alkire said.

Then in 2020, the county required Senior Services, Inc. to start using Dillon’s online ordering system on behalf of participants. Alkire said Dillon charges $3 for that service.

Senior Services, Inc. asked Sedgwick County for $70,000 to run Roving Pantry next year. Instead, they were allotted $33,000. The money comes from the county’s aging mill levy, a portion of property taxes set aside for programs that serve older residents. County commissioners have steadily decreased the aging mill levy rate over the past decade, in effect leaving millions of dollars on the table each year.

Anette Graham, executive director of the county’s Department on Aging, said she knows of no program similar to Roving Pantry “except for those programs that most of the grocery stores offer where you can go online, place an order and get delivery.”

The programs offered by Dillon, Walmart and Amazon vary in price and requirements but all appear to cost more than Roving Pantry participants pay.

Asked about the impact of the county-mandated fee, Graham said: “There was a small fee but we have been very flexible with them on that. I think it’s just that they’ve been challenged with trying to modernize and update the program, and they have fewer people using it. That could be for a variety of reasons.”

 Brewer said he knows that Dillon stores offer grocery delivery but the requirement of ordering online “is too technical for me. I’m old and you’ve got to have a computer.”

Alkire said Roving Pantry goes beyond what supermarkets offer. Senior Service employees carry deliveries into participants’ homes, often return and exchange wrong items for them and sometimes even put the groceries away. Brewer agreed, saying the employees “do a bang-up job. They’re all very commendable.”