In 2010 there were 57 million senior citizens (defined as over the age of 65) in America. That number is expected to double to 112 million seniors in 2050. This explosive growth is because 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day, and American life expectancy is at an all-time high. Seniors are the fastest growing population segment in America.
As seniors age, many struggle to remain independent. Expenses grow faster than their fixed retirement income and Social Security cost of living increases can keep up. Physical problems make it hard to get around. Social isolation, especially in rural areas, may mean that no one checks on their health and safety for weeks at a time. Senior citizens have to fall back on Medicare/Medicaid more heavily when their physical and/or social limitations lead to longer hospital stays after treatments, or earlier nursing home moves.
The solution is really quite simple. Someone needs to check on seniors who live alone, and help them get groceries and prepare a hot meal. Of course in most situations the family takes care of these needs, but what about seniors who have no family, or those who live far from their loved ones?
That is the idea behind Meals on Wheels (MOW). Meals on Wheels is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that has provided hot meals and check-ins to seniors who are poor, physically disabled, or socially isolated since their first meal delivery in Philadelphia back in 1954. They claim to save tax money by allowing seniors to be safely independent for a longer time.
Funding for MOW is a public-private partnership. There is some tax money designated to feed seniors in need, but much of their income comes from corporate and private donations of money and food, and most of their work is done by volunteers. Meals on Wheels America is the national organization. They oversee more than 5,000 community-based MOW operations around the country. Nationwide, those local chapters deliver more than a million meals a day, and more than 2 million volunteers work with them preparing food, delivering meals, serving (MOW dinners are served at some senior centers as well as home delivery), doing office work, helping at events, and conducting safety checks.
The time commitment for volunteers and the skills needed vary from job to job. To find out what kind of help is needed in your area, or to put yourself or a loved one on the list to receive Meals on Wheels, contact your local MOW chapter (Find it HERE).
Meals on Wheels has faced some budget cuts in recent years. This CNN Article from 2013 was helpful in my research and covers the topic of their funding issues.
The national Meals on Wheels website has tons of great resources for seniors and their families.
Have you or a loved one experienced Meals on Wheels? Share your story in the comments!