Meals on Wheels is a service that delivers nutritionally balanced meals to homebound seniors who are unable to shop for food or prepare their meals themselves. Meals on Wheels is the only federally supported program designed specifically to meet the nutritional and social needs of seniors.
According to Meals on Wheels, our country’s senior population is growing exponentially, which is leaving an unprecedented number of older people at risk of hunger and isolation. Nearly 9.5 million elders are threatened by hunger, with 5.5 million in the Food Insecure or Low Food Secure categories. One in four live alone and one in five feels lonely.
In Arkansas, food insecurity affects a significant number of our senior population – more than 16%. The crisis spans all demographics, but financially insecure seniors are at even greater risk.
The mission of Meals on Wheels is to alleviate both hunger and loneliness by delivering meals and friendship to the seniors who sign up for the program. Meals on Wheels operates in almost every community in America, run by over 5,000 independent local programs.
Who Qualifies for Meals on Wheels?
Meals on Wheels centers its focus on caring for those individuals who are unable to shop for food, prepare their own meals, or socialize with others. Since each program is locally-run, eligibility requirements may vary a little, but in general, anyone who is 60+ years old and experiences diminished mobility that keeps them from feeding themselves adequately is eligible.
Seniors who are mobile enough to drive or travel can join their peers for hot meals in senior centers or other designated locations. Those who are less mobile often qualify for a home-delivery program.
In some cases, Meals on Wheels may be available to seniors who are temporarily ill or homebound while recovering from surgery. Contact your Area Agency on Aging to find out if your region offers these services.
Depending on each individual’s circumstances, these meals may be provided on a sliding fee scale from free to full cost. While some seniors may be asked to contribute voluntarily to the cost of their meals, no senior will be denied a meal because of their inability to pay.
It is important to note that in many areas, there are waitlists because the need for meals far outweighs the resources available. So if you are able to pay or donate anything, please do.
What Kind of Meals Will I Receive from Meals on Wheels?
The food served by Meals on Wheels is designed to specifically meet the nutritional needs of vulnerable seniors. The actual meals provided will vary widely from area to area but they all meet the guidelines for recommended nutrient intake for older adults.
Meals may include a salad, entree, starch, bread, vegetable, dessert, and milk. The menus are designed to provide at least one-third of your required daily nutrients. Some locations also provide the DASH diet for those who need soft, diabetic, low sodium, or low cholesterol meals. Vegetarian meals are available on request in certain locations.
Contact your Area Agency on Aging or local senior center for more information on this month’s menu for home-delivered meals.
The Health Advantages of Meals on Wheels
Aside from the obvious benefit of avoiding hunger, Meals on Wheels programs provide many health benefits for both seniors and their communities. One in four seniors lives alone which drastically increases their risk of heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
These food delivery programs can be a valuable asset to insurers and healthcare providers by helping avoid unnecessary hospitalizations and reducing readmissions through appropriate nutrition, safety checks, and socialization. And 81% of people who receive Meals on Wheels across the nation say the program improves their health.
Healthcare providers are always looking for ways to offer more efficient, budget-friendly services, and Meals on Wheels can aid in that by keeping seniors healthier for longer.
How Is Meals on Wheels Funded?
Meals on Wheels receives funding from the federal government through the Older American Act, Medicaid, and the USDA. However, this funds only a small portion of the programs and services available to your local communities. More than 70 percent of most home-delivered meal programs are funded through donations from the community.
Participants are asked to contribute what they can toward the cost of their meals, but we never deny an individual food because they cannot pay. If you would like to donate to your Area Agency on Aging’s Meals on Wheels program, contact them and they’ll be happy to let you know how you can help and provide you with a receipt for tax deduction purposes.
How to Sign Up For Meals on Wheels
Most Meals on Wheels programs start the process through an application. This may then lead to an assessment of some sort to verify your needs for meals and other supportive services. Some Meals on Wheels programs may require a referral letter from a doctor or a social worker. You will have to contact your local program directly to find out what the process of signing up entails.
No matter what the application process entails, your Area Agency on Aging will provide you with a care coordinator to assess your needs and help you complete the application process. They can also connect you with any other services or benefits for which you may be eligible. This service is always at no cost to you.
If you have questions about home-delivered meals for seniors in your area, contact your Area Agency on Aging for more information. We will let you know if you meet the eligibility requirements and what steps you need to take to complete the application process.
The Arkansas Association of Area Agencies on Aging can direct you to many other services available for seniors in your area. From legal aid and housing to senior centers and in-home care, our mission is to provide the seniors of Arkansas with the services they need to live healthy, happy, independent lives for as long as possible.
To learn more about the services and benefits available to seniors in your area, contact your local agency or call 833-707-1187 and we will direct you to someone who can help.