BELOIT, Wis. -

With a deadline looming for $85 billion in automatic federal spending cuts, thousands of seniors are at risk of losing the daily meal from programs like Meals on Wheels.

Unlike the federal breakfast and lunch programs provided to school children, the programs that provide meals for seniors are not protected from the automatic cuts scheduled to go into effect on Friday.

That has a lot of people concerned.

"I just don't think we need to be pitting children's programs against seniors' programs. The seniors deserve the same protection the children's programs are receiving," said Marcy Berner-Reedy, executive director of Beloit Meals on Wheels.

In 2011, Beloit Meals on Wheels served 23,203 meals compared to 20,980 in 2010.

Kathy Gove, of Beloit, uses a wheelchair and said a lack of strength in her arms prevents her from cooking.

"To reach the stove or anything is almost impossible anymore, so the Meals on Wheels are very helpful and they're very good," Gove said.

Ross Thomas is one of more than 500 volunteers who help keep the program rolling. He takes time away from his job as general manager at the Culver's in Beloit to deliver meals. He doesn't get paid or reimbursed for miles.

"Having some of the funding taken away just puts a bigger strain on the community," Thomas said.

Berner-Reedy said the federal funding for Beloit Meals on Wheels last year remained the same despite there being a 10 percent increase in folks needing help.

"We're serving between 77 and 80 people a day, and some of our clients also receive the evening meal, so that translates to about 100 meals a day," she said.

About 20 percent of the group's funding comes from the federal government. The rest is from donations.

"We'll be doing more with less. We'll be working harder," Berner-Reedy said. "We'll be asking our community to step in, step up to the plate and working as hard as we can to ensure there aren't any waiting lists."

She said funding cuts could hurt the group's ability to provide meals seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Janice Woerth is also a client of Meals on Wheels. She said her daughter-in-law brings her food from time to time, but she primarily relies on the program.

"I wouldn't starve to death if I didn't have you people, but this is so much easier," Woerth said.

Without Meals on Wheels, seniors such as Gove would have to rely on what she can make with her microwave or simple things like sandwiches.

"You wouldn't be getting the nutritional meals that you get now," Gove said.

According to the director for Beloit's program, Wisconsin received more than $14 million in federal funds through the Older Americans Act nutrition funds. Just a 5 percent cut could mean a loss of more than 560,000 meals for programs across the state.

To raise money for Beloit's program, the group is hosting its annual March for Meals fundraiser. It kicks off at 10 a.m. Friday at Culver's, 2676 Cranston Rd. in Beloit. A percentage of the day's proceeds will benefit the program. For details, go to beloitmealsonwheels.org.