I’ve been delivering Meals on Wheels for about 10 years now, first in Solon and now in Cleveland Heights. As much as I love to check out the latest restaurant and take in all the great food Cleveland has to offer, I am also aware that there is a percentage of the population who do not have that luxury. Millions of seniors nationwide are struggling with hunger, isolation, and the ability to pay for basic living needs. One in six of our seniors struggle with hunger.
Meals on Wheels is a program that delivers meals to individuals at home who are unable to purchase or prepare their own meals. The name is often used generically to refer to home-delivered meals programs, not all of which are actually named “Meals on Wheels”. Because they are housebound, many of the recipients are the elderly, and many of the volunteers are also elderly but able-bodied and able to drive automobiles.
Meals on Wheels originated in the United Kingdom during the Blitz, when many people lost their homes and therefore the ability to cook their own food. The concept of delivering meals to those unable to prepare their own evolved into the modern programs that deliver mostly to the housebound elderly, sometimes free, or at a small charge. MOW America started in the U.S. in 1974. The first program began in Philadelphia, and Columbus, Ohio was the second city in the U.S. to establish a community based meals program. In 2016, Meals on Wheels provided approximately 218 million meals to 2.5 million Americans. Approximately 500,000 of the recipients are veterans. The annual meal cost is $2,765.
In March 2017, President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts to block grants that go towards spending on Meals on Wheels. Defending these cuts, director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney said that “Meals on Wheels sounds great” but that the program is one of many that is “just not showing any results. This is not true. A 2013 study on the impact of home-delivered meal programs found that “all but two studies found home-delivered meal programs to significantly improve diet quality, increase nutrient intakes, and reduce food insecurity and nutritional risk among participants. Other beneficial outcomes include increased socialization opportunities, improvement in dietary adherence, and higher quality of life.”
No one is turned away from Meals on Wheels due to inability to pay. The cost for meals is based on a sliding scale, and the staff works with the client to determine an affordable fee based on the senior’s gross monthly income minus certain expenses. Meals on Wheels also accepts SNAP (food stamps) for payment. Our seniors pay about $1.35-5.00 for each delivery day. They receive one hot meal and one cold meal. Dietary issues and food preferences can be taken into account. For example, one client in Solon hated wheat bread, and it was marked on the delivery sheet. Also, diabetic meals with a diabetic-friendly dessert are labeled accordingly. One gentleman gets a frozen meal delivered with his hot and cold meals, and frozen meals are also available on national holidays. We do not deliver on holidays, such as Easter Monday this year because the church was closed. Today the church was having plumbing repairs done, so we were able to deliver out of the kitchen of Disciples Church on Mayfield Road.
Speaking from my own experience, sometimes I am the only person these homebound seniors see all day. They are always happy to see me and bring a smile to my face. My favorite client in Solon always had a huge grin on her face when she greeted me. I learned several years later from her son that she had Alzheimer’s and had no idea who I was, but she was so happy to have food delivered. I have been lucky. If no one comes to the door we always call their home and if there is no response we then call the Office on Aging or Senior Center that oversees the program. Most of the time it is just a matter of having a doctor’s appointment and forgetting to cancel the delivery that day. However, some drivers have reported finding clients injured on the floor or even dead. I hope it is a myth, but I have heard of at least one senior waiting to commit suicide before the driver arrived so that their body would be found.
The meals in Solon are/were picked up out of a retirement home cafeteria, and we provided our own coolers and bags. The hot meals were delivered in those big styrofoam take-out containers, so I had a large cooler to fit them all. The cold meals were bagged in plastic shopping bags. Cleveland Heights picks up from a retirement home and delivers the food to Fairmount Presbyterian, where it is portioned out and reheated in their oven. Cleveland Heights provides coolers and bags for the drivers, and the hot meals are delivered in handmade cozies to keep them warm. We return the coolers, bags, cozies and clipboard to the church when we are done.
I have included some photos from today’s delivery, because I had a client who was not home. When that happens I am allowed to do whatever I see fit with the meals. I have been known in the past to give it to one of the homeless on Carnegie Avenue. I decided to eat it myself today (thanks Tax Day). The hot meal featured beef stew, rice and what I thought were beans but ended up being asparagus that was overcooked to an inch of its life (but still tasty). The beef stew was actually quite good. The cold meal is always a sandwich, a piece of fruit, a carton of milk, a dessert and some kind of side salad. Today it was a turkey and American cheese sandwich (with two slices of turkey instead of one – we had complaints) and mayo and mustard packets, a carton of milk, an orange, a slice of cake, and cottage cheese with a cherry tomato. The meals are always balanced and nutritious.
At this moment, thousands of homebound seniors across America are on waiting lists to receive Meals on Wheels. If you would like to help, a donation could help us fight for the resources our programs need to serve vulnerable seniors. At the local level you could call the local senior center and see what they need. Our delivery coolers are getting pretty ragged, for example, and we are constantly running out of cozies. You can also volunteer your time picking up food, packing the food or delivering meals.
I hope you forgive my indulgence today of spreading the word about Meals on Wheels. I know many people are not sure what it involves. Hopefully this little blog post helped. Thank you.