Lela Powell's and Wilbert Campbell's faces break into huge smiles as Meals on Wheels volunteer Ken Ritt takes a few minutes to chat with them as he makes his morning deliveries.

It is for people like Campbell and Ms. Powell, and the nearly 500 others who receive home-delivered meals through the program that Brownie Doss remains optimistic about the program's future despite an atmosphere of budget cutting in Washington, D.C.

At the moment the target of potential federal budget cuts is the national Meals on Wheels Association, not its members, which includes Wayne County, said Mrs. Doss, WAGES director for Older Adult Services that manages the feeding program locally.

The national association is "a great organization" that provides training, research, advocacy and other services for its members, but does not pay for any meals, she said.

About 3 percent, approximately $248,000, of the association's $7.6 million 2015 budget came from federal funding, according to information provided by the association.

The federal Home and Community Block Grant program, which helps fund local Meals on Wheels, the senior companion and foster grandparent programs, has not yet been targeted for cuts, she said.

That is according to information from Eastern Carolina Council officials who oversee local Meals on Wheels programs in a nine-county area and who report to the N.C. Division of Aging and Adult Services.

The approximately $600,000 for the Wayne County program includes a complex mixture of federal/state funding, Mrs. Doss said.

That mixture accounts for about 60 percent of the local budget, she said.

The program also receives money from Wayne County, the city of Goldsboro, churches, private citizens and United Way.

Mrs. Doss said she has received an email from the council saying, "don't get up in the air yet because it is still unknown what will actually happen."

What that means for local program remains to be seen and concerns linger that local programs might not escape budget cuts that could cripple, if not eliminate them.

"I just can't even imagine," Mrs. Doss said. "I mean if they totally cut out senior companions, home-aid program all of those things -- I don't know. I can't imagine what would happen.

"A lot of people would have to go to a nursing home, and Medicaid expense of a nursing home, that's astronomical. There are very few people who can afford nursing homes care private pay. Or people would just be fending for themselves the best way they could I guess."

Despite assurances that the local feeding program isn't under possible threat, volunteers continue to express concerns.

Some are writing letters to their congressmen. One said she was sending a letter to the president.

"A lot of the volunteers have been up in arms about it," Mrs. Doss said. "They have been coming in saying things, saying how upset they are."

The ones who would want to eliminate the program just do not understand what it does, Mrs. Doss said.

"I think there will be enough uproar about Meals on Wheels that it would be very hard to pass that to cut out the funding for that," she said. "We don't rely on it (federal funding) totally by any means. I feel like we get a lot of support from the community, which I feel like is important.

"It was always intended they would give you some, and you would add to it. That is what we have always done, tried to get some more support so that we could meet the need in the county."

And the people in Wayne County have been very supportive of the program, she said.

"We would not be able to have served nearly the number of folks that we serve right now without all of that assistance," Mrs. Doss said. "But we would just have to really reduce what we serve. We are going to be optimistic about it.

"It is a meal and much more because there is the fact that we are checking on them every day. We have emergency contacts. So if they have fallen or something has happened, and we can't get them to the door, then we are going to follow up and make sure that somebody checks on them."

Having that check and then just having somebody come by with a friendly hello is important, she said.

For example, volunteer Ken Ritt and other members of the Three Eagles Rotary Club carried meals to a man who is a double amputee.

He currently is in a nursing home, but plans to return home.

Along with carrying meals to his home, the Rotarians checked on him, have done things for him outside the meal delivery, and now they are going by to see him at the nursing home at least once a week, she said.

"The volunteers are so important to the people," Mrs. Doss said." I mean sometimes more important than the meal because it is just the contact for somebody sitting there by themselves all the time."

Another benefit of the program is that it also helps keep people out of nursing homes which can be very expensive, she said.

"So it is a very important part of services for seniors that helps them to stay home," she said. "We will have several seniors who will say when we do an annual survey that they could not stay at home if they did not have meals on wheels -- if they did not have someone bringing them a meal and check on them daily."

Federal funding requires recipients be 60 or older, homebound and unable to prepare their meals for themselves.

Other sources, including United Way allows the program to serve some people under 60 who otherwise have the same needs, she said.

Wayne County has a large older population, and it is growing, Mrs. Doss said.

"The need is increasing, not decreasing," she said. "I think the budget, I feel like the Congress, this was just kind of thrown out there as a starting point.

"Hopefully once they look at the programs individually and realize what a good bang for their buck they are getting, we won't have to worry about it. That is my optimistic view."