Meals On Wheels Is A Lot More Than Comfort Food

“8.3 million seniors face the threat of hunger every day in America. Every day.”

By Dave Riley

My friend Al Wegel is a retired editor who loves words and wordplay. He and I both do the New York Times crossword, but with different results. He finishes the Friday puzzle, which, in case you didn’t know, is sadistically difficult, in 60 minutes or less. I finish the Friday puzzle — IF I finish the Friday puzzle — shortly before going to bed Sunday night.

He abhors inflated language (“Caregivers for the non-ambulatory shall not attempt to effect ingress to or egress from…” etc.), and collects examples of good plain English. Among his favorites, the word “stop” on a stop sign. (“One of the most perfect complete sentences in the English Language.”) and Amazon’s “Where’s my stuff?” (“Why can’t all instructions use language that simple?”)

Needless to say (a phrase, by the way, Al would never use because if it’s needless, why say it?) anyway, needless to say I consider him the ultimate arbiter in all matters verbal. So I asked Al what he thought of the program name Meals on Wheels.

He didn’t so much as blink. “Outstanding!” he raved. “Meals on Wheels says it all.”

Actually that doesn’t say it all, but I didn’t debate the point with him. At the time, I was soliciting a donation for Meals from him, and I remembered my old business school prof warning us: “You never win an argument with a customer.” So I moved on. However in reality there’s a lot more to Meals on Wheels. For example:

First, the obvious — Meals on Wheels provides recipients with wholesome, nutritious food. This is no minor blessing. “For one in six seniors in the U.S., hunger is a real struggle,” says a report from the National Council On Aging (NCOA). According to one recent study, 8.3 million seniors face the threat of hunger every day in America. Every day.

And the problem is only going to get worse. We’re living longer — that’s the good news — but the longer we live, the less able we are to take care of ourselves. Having nutritious food during our senior years can’t ward off every malady but it can make a body more resistant to the attacks of diseases normally suffered by the aging. So Meals on Wheels isn’t just comfort food.

In fact half of all diseases affecting older Americans are directly connected to inadequate nutrition. “For older Americans especially, hunger and malnutrition can completely undo any investments or advances we might make in better access to health care,” says Dr. Mark Lachs of Cornell University and author of Treat Me, Not My Age.

Secondly Meals on Wheels is the reason many seniors are able to stay in their homes. The people who receive Meals on Wheels are unable to prepare their own meals or go out to eat, and have little or no assistance to obtain adequate meals. If it weren’t for Meals on Wheels, social workers or MealstoGoevfamily would force many of them into some kind of care facility. Which is not a rap on care facilities, but just a recognition that for seniors who are capable of it, living independently at home with a lifetime of familiar surroundings is much more desirable. “If the only missing piece of the puzzle that’s needed to keep people in their homes is food, then we can provide that,” says Robin Trexler, site manager at a Meals on Wheels location near where I live.

Thirdly, in the course of delivering meals, volunteers do what Rob Crone, Director of Nutrition and Auxiliary Services at the Eastern Area Agency on Aging calls “wellness checks.” They function as cautionary eyes that can report back if a senior appears to be ill or has a marked change in demeanor. “Meals volunteers don’t just drop the meals and run,” says Rob. If the recipient doesn’t come to the door, the volunteer looks about to locate the person. There are emergency contact numbers the Meals people can call. But they don’t leave until contact has been made. Rob says that about once a month a volunteer will encounter a situation that rises to the level of a minor emergency or at least a condition that causes concern.

Some are not so minor. One Meals volunteer in Southern California who got no answer at the door, peered through the window and discovered the resident passed out on the floor. Another entered a home to the strong smell of gas and quickly turned off the gas, called 9-1-1 and opened the windows. In both instances, unquestionably lives were saved.

All of which points out how valuable the volunteers are. They deliver, yes, but obviously they do a lot more. I don’t want to start any bicoastal kerfuffles but I have to give extra credit to the volunteers in Maine because they have a few things to contend with that those in Southern California don’t: snow days, blizzards and sub-zero temps. Heavy rain sometimes happens out here, and we certainly could use some right now, but I’ve been here more than fifteen years and have never felt the need for snow tires.

But I digress.

There is yet one more huge benefit to Meals on Wheels, and it’s my favorite. I call it the social stuff. We’ll talk about that next week.

Photo: Dave Riley

Dave Riley

About Dave Riley

Growing Old Isn’t For Sissies is about aging. It’s stories of how some older people achieve remarkable successes, how some people make the lives of others better, and how all seniors have hurdles to face — maladies, loss of loved ones and more.