Meals on Wheels:

Caring For Those Who Cared For Us

The good news is that we’re living longer these days; the bad news is the decline in health we may experience as we age.

Millions of seniors, our country’s fastest growing population, are affected by illness and mobility issues that can cause them to become “shut in” with little or no contact to the outside world. These folks are too often left alone, lacking adequate nutrition, which can exacerbate any health woes and, in fact, shorten their lives.

One of the most effective solutions to this situation is Meals on Wheels, serving some 2.4 million seniors nationwide in over 5,000 communities around the country. The organization estimates that it costs less to provide a senior with its services for an entire year than it costs to spend one day in the hospital or six days in a nursing home. In essence, Meals on Wheels can save billions of dollars in unnecessary medical and social service expenses, while filling a critical need for seniors.

Senior Concerns

In 1975, Senior Concerns began as a grassroots organization dedicated to serving frail seniors and their families in the Conejo Valley. According to Andrea Gallagher, president of Senior Concerns, “The initial challenge to be tackled was feeding the ‘invisible elderly,’ a term used to describe home-bound seniors in Thousand Oaks and Newbury Park.”

Andrea notes there are three primary concerns their home-delivered meal program addresses: proper nutrition, meal funding and isolation. Her organization adopted the national Meals on Wheels program to ensure that the needs of these older individuals were met both nutritionally and socially. As to the cost of the meals, with proof of need, Senior Concerns will cover what their participants cannot.

“We provide a varied, three-week menu cycle created by registered dieticians from Los Robles Hospital and Senior Concerns based on Dietary Guidelines for Americans/USDA Food Patterns for those 50 or older. We can even accommodate special dietary needs, such as diabetic, renal and food allergies,” says Senior Concerns’ Director of Nutrition Services Lisa Weaver.

One of the organization’s Board of Directors is Terri Hilliard, a Westlake Village estate planner and elder care attorney, who began volunteering with Senior Concerns because she personally saw the value of the program.

“My grandmother used the program and I could be assured that she had someone to check on her and provide healthy meals when I couldn’t be around,” she recalls. “I wanted to make sure that my community would have the same peace of mind.”

In the past year alone, Senior Concerns has helped 190 seniors with the aid of 86 volunteers, plus Rotary, Kiwanis, Westlake Juniors and Via Esperanza service groups. In addition to delivering food, they also raise awareness about the risks of not eating properly and take time to socialize with their elder charges.

Jane M., one of Senior Concerns’ Meals on Wheels subscribers, had hip surgery in April and was unable to shop or cook when she returned home. She applied for the program and used the service through June, when she could start getting around more easily.

“It was surgery and directly to home,” says Jane. “I couldn’t have done it without Meals on Wheels. I am so grateful. My family lives nearby, but with work and teenagers, they really couldn’t help on a regular basis. The program’s volunteers were always gracious, loving and respectful of my privacy. It’s nice to know we have options when we need help. They were there for me and, yet, I was able to maintain my independence, which is so important.”

Senior Concerns’ volunteer Maureen Dobbins, a retired Registered Nurse, has been delivering meals for over two years. “I wanted to be useful and found the experience has been tremendously rewarding,” she says, recalling working with one lady who was in her 80s and bedridden. “Over a six-month period, I saw marked change in her condition, becoming more active and engaged. I felt I made a difference.”

Andrea predicts exponential growth for Senior Concerns’ Meals on Wheels program during the next decade.

“We’ll be quadrupling the age 80+ population and more seniors will be living with multiple, chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. More seniors are financially insecure today than earlier generations, as health care costs skyrocket and there is a growing lack of family caregivers to help aging seniors,” she notes.

Senior Concerns helps enroll clients in the program during home visits to evaluate nutritional needs and suggest other beneficial services. The organization can also use many more volunteer drivers to meet the needs of the communities they serve. Senior Concerns’ Meals on Wheels program currently delivers meals 365 days a year at a cost of $9.45 per day for a hot lunch and light dinner.

For more information, contact Lisa Weaver, RD, at 805.496.2009.