Pain at the pump has hit just about everyone, but rising gas prices have been especially tough on needy seniors and others who depend on services such as Meals on Wheels.

Volunteers who have kept the program going are being forced out by soaring fuel costs. To keep the wheels in Meals on Wheels rolling takes gas, and at nearly $4 a gallon, about a third of Twin Cities meals programs have seen volunteers quit or cut their hours.

And high food costs, combined with the rising gas prices, shut down the North Anoka program last month.

Nationwide, about 58 percent of meals programs have lost volunteers for the same reasons, according to a May survey by the Meals on Wheels Association of America. Several programs around the country and in Canada have simply shut down operations.

It's time for individuals, businesses, government, nonprofits and other community agencies to step up and give generously to keep Meals on Wheels on the road.

More corporations and smaller businesses need to get involved as well, to replenish the volunteer ranks. If companies were to encourage employees to participate, these workers could share the load within a department or division, and only have to volunteer once or twice a month.

In addition, lawmakers should be encouraged to maintain adequate funding for nutrition and food programs aimed at seniors and the infirm. About 44 percent of the money for Twin Cities-area Meals on Wheels programs comes from federal, state and county funding. As the population ages, the demand is only going to grow -- projected to rise by 30 percent in the next four years.

Individual and group contributions can help, too. About 20 percent of the total funding for area programs comes from individual and other donors.

There's sad irony in the fact that people who are struggling because of economic hardship are unable to get the help they need from charitable organizations for the same reasons.

Meals on Wheels can be the tipping point for many elderly or disabled shut-ins. Having a hot, nutritious meal delivered can be the key to independence.

And just as important as the food is the daily contact with volunteers. Receiving meals and having someone check on them are the type of in-home services that can help keep people out of nursing homes -- saving millions in hospital and other institutional costs.

Meals on Wheels serves more than 1 million meals a year in the metro area, and it's an essential lifeline for those who struggle to afford or prepare food on their own. That's why a communitywide effort is needed to retain and increase the supply of donors and drivers and keep the program on track.