In 2019, more than nine million seniors experienced hunger in the United States.
That was roughly four years ago. With the pandemic and rising inflation, there must be consistent support for nutrition programs that address food insecurity and the social isolation of our seniors.
Meals on Wheels is a program that has been helping seniors across the United States for decades. It aims to provide homebound seniors and individuals with disabilities with nutritious meals and a daily check-in from a friendly face. The initiative also offers much-needed social interaction and community for our elderly.
Maybe it’s you or an aging loved one. Whoever it is, you’re here to learn more about Meals on Wheels for seniors. This article will take a closer look at Meals on Wheels, including its history and purpose, its impact on seniors across the country, and how to find a program near you. We’ll also provide tips on choosing the right program for your needs.
Overview of Meals on Wheels for Seniors
The first Meals on Wheels program was established to deliver food to people in Britain who had lost their homes during World War II. In 1954, the volunteers at Philadelphia’s Lighthouse Community Center introduced the first home-delivery service in the United States. They prepared, packaged, and distributed meals to the community’s elderly and disabled.
Today, Meals on Wheels America has become a nationwide project with more than 5,000 locally based initiatives across the country. At its core, the programs are designed to help seniors combat hunger and isolation.
What is Meals on Wheels for Seniors?
Meals on Wheels’ mission is to provide well-packed, balanced and nutritious meals to older adults vulnerable to malnutrition and social isolation due to sickness, mobility challenges, and other circumstances. Additionally, the program serves as a wellness check, allowing the workers or volunteers to evaluate the situation of our seniors. Family members and medical professionals will receive a report if there are any concerns.
Finding The Right Program For Your Loved Ones
The inclusion of services will vary in different Meals on Wheels locations. To choose the best program for your aging parents, here are some factors you should consider:
- The program is available in your area.
- The services match your seniors’ unique needs (e.g., the provider offers meals for people with dietary restrictions).
- Additional services are available (e.g., pet food delivery if you have pets at home).
Choosing the right program can make all the difference in your or your loved one’s quality of life. For example, the local chapter of Meals on Wheels in Arkansas has delivered 2,091,559 meals to 12,813 seniors living at home. Find a local program near you here.
If you’re in Arkansas, these resources can guide you:
- East Arkansas Area Agency on Aging’s services.
- CareLink’s services in central Arkansas.
- Arkansas Association of Area Agencies on Aging contact information.
Availability and Eligibility for Meals on Wheels Services
The federally backed nutrition program under the Older American Act (OAA) covers roughly one-third of the budget of Meals on Wheels programs. Local and private contributions comprise the rest of the needed funding. In 2019, Meals on Wheels America reported that the program has served 223 million meals and fed 2.4 million adults. This is a valuable initiative, especially for the 7,540,077 seniors who live in extreme poverty.
You or your loved one will receive meals regardless of your financial situation as long as eligibility requirements in your location are met. On average, each meal costs $7–$9 to prepare.
You can check the programs below if you need more financial assistance for covering the cost of Meals on Wheels:
Medicaid Food Delivery Services
Seniors can receive home-delivered meals if they qualify for Medicaid. The state determines the number of waivers, so the reimbursements may only cover part of the meals.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
Formerly known as food stamps, SNAP aims to help low-income individuals and families have enough money to afford healthy food. The program allows senior recipients to use their benefits to cover their Meals on Wheels expenses. Find out if you or your loved one is eligible for SNAP here.
The Department of Veterans Affairs provides several benefits, including nutrition support, to older veterans. These benefits may help pay for Meals on Wheels programs.
Other Local Resources
In some communities, there are local organizations or charities that give financial assistance to vulnerable seniors so they can afford Meals on Wheels. Read this report to learn more about your options.
Some local Meals on Wheels chapters offer donation options if you don’t qualify for these programs but can still pay for the meals.
Who Qualifies for Meals on Wheels
The eligibility criteria vary with different locations and program providers. Generally, older adults who experience difficulty getting and preparing their meals due to physical and financial challenges are prioritized. The seniors’ needs are more important, so income requirements are usually not considered in the list of requirements. Specific qualifications may include the following:
- 60 years of age and/or older.
- Incapable of leaving the house due to disability and/or sickness.
- Vulnerable to malnutrition.
- Have no caregiver or family member to cook meals for you.
- Reside within the provider’s service area.
How Can I Find Meals on Wheels Near Me?
You can learn more by visiting the Meals on Wheels America website. You must enter your zip code to find the nearest program provider in your vicinity. Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) also have great resources for Meals on Wheels services. You can look for more information on the Arkansas Association of Area Agencies on Aging website.
When signing up, you’ll typically access an online form that asks for standard information, such as the requestor’s and participant’s details.
After filling out the form, a team from the agency or organization will get in touch to conduct an initial assessment and discuss qualifications for the program as soon as possible. Their representatives may ask for the following:
- Details about health insurance.
- Emergency contacts.
- Contact information of primary doctors.
- Health concerns and urrent ailments.
- Dietary concerns.
Importance of a Well-Balanced Meal Plan for Seniors
Based on the report developed for Meals on Wheels America in 2017, 33% of hospitalized seniors were likely malnourished. Roughly 50% of older adults living in communities may also suffer from malnutrition. These findings underscore the importance of access to healthy meals for our vulnerable seniors.
Aside from providing food assistance for seniors, Meals on Wheels programs also make sure that the participants receive the nutrition requirements they need daily.
What Do You Typically Get in a Meal?
To safeguard the well-being of our elderly, local providers always make sure that the meals meet one-third of the required nutrient intake of an average person per day. Of course, this means that the food portions are well-balanced; for example, there are correct amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. Here are some examples of food you may receive depending on your local program:
Meals on Wheels programs also consider if you or your loved one has dietary concerns. Feeding the elderly already demands a lot of effort. Although most providers offer low-sodium and diabetic-friendly meals, not all may provide options for specific dietary needs such as gluten-free or vegetarian. However, many providers still strive to accommodate vulnerable seniors with a range of dietary requirements to ensure their needs are met.
It’s essential to continue the Meals on Wheels initiatives, especially with proof that home-delivered meals contribute to improving older adults’ well-being.
Caring at an Affordable Cost: Healthy Meals on Wheels for Seniors
Meals on Wheels is a vital program that helps to combat malnutrition and social isolation among seniors across the United States. Through its nutritious meals and friendly check-ins from workers and volunteers, the program provides valuable help for many seniors who can no longer prepare meals for themselves.
We’ve looked at the history and purpose of Meals on Wheels and how to find local programs in your area. We’ve seen how crucial appropriate nutrition is for seniors and how Meals on Wheels may help them get the meals they need to be healthy and independent.
Care for your aging loved one in the best possible way by downloading our free checklist.