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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Meals on Wheels driver Susan Chesnut picks up food at the Utah County Jail on July 3. The jail was awarded a contract to make the food.

OREM — In the past it was hospital staff. Now it's jail inmates.

The Mountainland Association of Governments will be working with a new partner for the next five years for Meals On Wheels. The Utah County Jail recently won a contract with MAG to prepare the food given to seniors age 60 and up who are homebound or who attend local senior centers.

The new contract will also cost $50,000 more this year than last. Utah Valley Regional Medical Center has provided the meals for more than 20 years, but when the hospital informed MAG that the price might have to go up, officials were required to put the contract out for bid. The county jail came back with a bid of $2.45 per meal while UVRMC bid $2.65 per meal. The previous cost was $2.25 per meal.

"We had to pay $50,000 more or $100,000 more," depending on which bid was accepted, said Erin Dyreng, nutrition program manager for MAG.

MAG hadn't expected the new cost that began Tuesday to be quite so high, but it will be able to take the money from other areas of its budget, said Scott McBeth, director of aging services for MAG. Other agencies that provide Meals On Wheels have seen prices rise by as much as 28.5 cents per meal, he said.

"We're not paying quite that much, but it's still very significant and it's not really money we had sitting there budgeted," McBeth said.

In Davis County, costs increased about 10 cents per meal or about $1,000 per month, officials said.

In Salt Lake County, Marvin Conrad, Meals on Wheels program director, said that for now the county's food prices remain the same. Salt Lake County works with a company based in Jackson, Miss., that supplies the food, and they have until September to raise the rates.

McBeth said he budgets for a new Meals On Wheels vehicle every year but this year that money will have to be redistributed to the food preparation.

Although some people might be hesitant about inmates making their food, McBeth said he wasn't worried.

"I don't see any reason not to feel comfortable," he said. "The supervision of food being prepared is as good or better than any place that you or I can obtain a meal."

It's a privilege for inmates to work in the kitchen and spots are given to them based on behavior, Commissioner Gary Anderson said. Only the best-behaved inmates are allowed to work in the kitchen.

McBeth and a delegation consisting of MAG members, mayors and county commissioners, as well as local senior citizens, went to the jail, witnessed the preparation and tasted the food that would be prepared for the Meals On Wheels. The food met MAG's requirements, he said.

"Utah County is very committed to doing a good job," he said.

Commissioner Larry Ellertson said the county commissioners, who belong to MAG, didn't participate in the decision giving the contract to the jail. He said that financially the contract won't be a major boon for the jail but it will be a good experience for the inmates working in the kitchen.

"Most of the benefit is from the standpoint that it provides an opportunity for some of the inmates," he said.

He added that through programs like working in the kitchen, the garden, work release or in the laundry, inmates "can learn some skills that will help them on the outside."


Contributing: Rodger L. Hardy, Joe Dougherty

E-mail: csmith@desnews.com