Town Talk Features

Food & Friendship: The Meals on Wheels Program

It’s hard to believe that in this day and age, people in our region are not getting enough to eat each day. But for an estimated 60,000 area seniors, that’s the case, according to Mary Schaefer, executive director of Mid-East Area Agency on Aging (MEAAA). Big Wheels for Meals, led by local business and political officials, is an MEAAA initiative during the month of March. MEAAA has delivered nutritious meals Monday to Friday to homebound elderly for more than 40 years. Until seven or eight years ago, meals were provided on weekends as well, but limited funding has eliminated weekend service for the most part.

The roots of the meal program are found in England during WWII, when households, devastated by the Blitz, were unable to prepare their own food. A women’s volunteer service responded to the emergency, preparing and delivering meals to needy neighbors. The first home-delivered meal program in the U.S. began in Philadelphia in 1954 when a social worker at that city’s Lighthouse Community Center saw that senior citizens and other vulnerable members of society were going hungry. At that time, most of the volunteers were high school students. They were referred to as ‘platter angels’ for their role in alleviating hunger.

On March 21, as part of the local Big Wheels for Meals campaign, students again stepped up to the plate when they accompanied community leaders on house-to-house deliveries. General manager of Emmis Communications John Beck, general manager of CBS Radio John Sheehan and president of AT&T Missouri John Sondag also are honorary chairs for the campaign. “We are honored to have these prominent men join us in this effort,” Schaefer says. “They are leading by example and if they can do it, so can members of our community.”

Schaefer stresses that the Meals on Wheels program is about much more than food. Not only does it provide daily human interaction for people who otherwise may be isolated, but Mid-East Area Agency also acts as a support network, providing access to a wide variety of services and donations. In addition, Schaefer says, research shows that lack of proper nutrition can lead to depression, incontinence, heart attack and congestive heart failure. The cost of providing a daily meal ($4) is much less, she points out, than the cost of hospitalization or nursing care.

Schaefer says in addition to funds, the program needs volunteers. “Twenty-nine percent of Missouri’s population age 60 and older resides in our four-county area,” she says. “That’s a lot of people, and a lot of need.”

Pictured: MEAAA board member George Brown delivers meals to a client.
Photo courtesy of Mid-East Area Agency on Aging