Martha Ramsey hasn't cooked a meal since her husband died in 1992.
But finding someone to deliver hot lunches to her doorstep each day has become increasingly harder for the York Senior Center, which has lost more than half of its volunteer drivers in the last two months without replacement. Several others have cut back on their hours or become standby drivers and drop-in help.
"It's the cost of living," explained site manager Elaine Kershaw. "Gas, food... everything is going up, and people can't afford it anymore."
Hefty gas prices are driving away many of the nearly 90 volunteers who provide food delivery, house care and transportation for homebound elders in the city limits of York, Clover, Rock Hill and Fort Mill.
All four centers are part of the York County Council on Aging, which receives federal and state funding in addition to donations from United Way, churches and community members.
The council wants to keep area seniors out of costly nursing homes if possible, says executive director Wendy Duda, but cuts in funding and higher prices on gas and food make that more difficult by the week.
"We certainly aren't so naive to think these changes in the economy won't affect us," Duda said. "We're bracing ourselves for that."
More than half of the nation's elderly care agencies said they have already cut back on programs because of gas costs, according to a recent survey by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. Also, 90 percent said they expected to make cuts in the 2009 fiscal year.
Duda said no program cuts have been decided for next year, but the council is trying to be thrifty in the meantime.
"We're watching our pennies and hoping it doesn't get worse," Duda said, "We certainly don't want to get rid of this program."
Kershaw groups York deliveries by streets and neighborhoods to save on gas, and splits her deliveries into smaller routes when she can. The agency reimburses drivers 40 cents per mile and posts signs downtown asking for more help.
Volunteers deliver to 37 households in York, and it's not uncommon for the program to have a waiting list, Kershaw said. Seniors also file in to the center on North Congress Street at lunchtime for hot meals and activities such as Bingo or jigsaw puzzles.
Donations are accepted at the center, but not required. Some seniors can only afford a quarter for their meals and activities. Others pay $1 or $2 if they can.
The money goes back into funding future meals -- meals Martha Ramsey waits for every day before noon.
Ramsey finds it difficult to walk, but always has a fork and napkin ready on the TV tray in her living room before drivers show up.
If they're late, she calls to asks about it.
"It's good for the seniors to have contact once a day with someone," Kershaw said. "A lot of them live alone. So many of them consider this their lifeline, not just their meal provider."