Shift in funder’s strategy has Meals on Wheels reaching out

By Gail Singer Adland, Neal Davis, Alan Winstead and Stacey Yusko

Guest columnists

No one grows up dreaming of becoming isolated, hungry, and alone. The number of seniors facing the threat of hunger is devastatingly high and quite hard to comprehend. Meals on Wheels was created around one central idea: Our neighbors should not have to struggle to live independently and with dignity as they grow old.

Our programs — Community and Senior Services of Johnston County, Meals on Wheels Chapel Hill-Carrboro, Meals on Wheels Durham, and Meals on Wheels Wake County — deliver a nutritious meal, a safety check and the social contact that serve as a lifeline to seniors of limited mobility. Meals on Wheels goes well beyond fighting the battle against the hunger that threatens one in five of North Carolina’s seniors — we provide the support and peace of mind that enable them to remain safely and securely in their own homes as they continue to age.

Our four programs have all been recipients of crucial funding from United Way of the Greater Triangle for many years. Donations from that organization — through both allocations and designations — have helped keep hundreds of seniors in their homes. Unfortunately, for seniors in our counties, UWGT has changed its strategic focus. Among many other basic-needs agencies, we received notification at the end of April that our funding will be decreased by 75 percent beginning July 1, 2017.

In a time when our waiting lists are growing, the senior population is exploding, safety nets are in risk of being removed or reduced, federal support of our programs is in jeopardy, this news is disheartening. We fear that many of the seniors who rely on us every day for a nutritious meal, safety check and visit from a volunteer will be left behind.

While we applaud United Way’s determination to move the needle in areas relating to vulnerable children and their families, the fact is that this reduction in funds translates into a loss of 24,100 meals in our four-county area this coming year. Our agencies need to find alternative sources of income to feed almost 100 people immediately, or we will all need to reduce services.

Enabling seniors to stay in their own homes means they remain happier and connected to the communities and surroundings that provide them comfort. Seniors receiving home delivered meals represent a frail and vulnerable population. Their daily contact with volunteers and the delivery of a hot, nutritious meal stand between these seniors and more expensive placement in a skilled nursing home. After all, we can provide a senior with Meals on Wheels for an entire year for roughly the same cost of an average one-day stay in the hospital or 10 days in a nursing home.

The gap between those in need and those being served continues to widen as 12,000 individuals turn 60 every day nationwide. This age group represents the fastest growing demographic in our country. The senior population is increasingly threatened by hunger, and, unfortunately, funding fails to keep pace. What does the length of waiting lists mean for seniors? That can be answered, in part, by looking at the results of a national study that was conducted by Meals on Wheels America. This study compares seniors who receive a home delivered meal to seniors on waiting lists for those same meals. The results are profound, and include the following: Compared to seniors receiving home-delivered meals, older adults on Meals on Wheels waiting lists have worse self-rated health; are more likely to have fallen; are more likely to have the fear of falling, limiting activities; are lonelier, are more likely to need help shopping for groceries; are more depressed;, have more anxiety; and have more hazards inside the home.

What does this mean for Meals on Wheels? We will need to rely on our local communities as never before. We all recognize that we are fortunate to have dedicated volunteers and donors. Frankly; we will need more to meet our current and future needs. We hope that you will support our programs to feed your homebound, elderly neighbors. Please visit the website of the meal program in your community to learn more about how we are helping seniors near you, and to get involved. Our seniors need us, and we need you.

Gale Singer Adland is executive director, Meals on Wheels Durham, www.mowdurham.org; Neal Davis is executive director, Community and Senior Services of Johnston County, www.cssjohnston.org; Alan Winstead is executive director, Meals on Wheels Wake County, www.wakemow.org; Stacey Yusko is executive director, Meals on Wheels of Chapel Hill-Carrboro, www.chcmow.org.