Updated: Dec 31, 2020
Who is most at risk for COVID-19? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), eight out of ten deaths due to COVID-19 have been in adults 65 years old or older. However, risk of infection isn't the only thing threatening our grandmas and grandpas that has been exacerbated by the pandemic: instability and isolation are fervent and constant issues. Meals on Wheels by ACC found in 2010 that of Sacramento County's quarter of a million senior citizens, 46% had difficulty eating (even with assistance), 67% had difficulty preparing meals (even with assistance), and 54% reported that food is the first expense to cut back on when money is tight. It is expected that one-fifth of America's population will be comprised of older adults by 2030, and in a crisis like today's, it's time to extend concern and compassion to the large number of some the most vulnerable in our communities (IOA, 2018).
Below is excerpted discussion between Incandescent Review Journalism Editor and Columnist Julia Do and Susan Papiri, Senior Director of Community Relations for Meals on Wheels Orange County.
IR: What is Meals on Wheels, and why are senior citizens especially vulnerable during this time?
Susan Papiri: For over 50 years, Meals on Wheels Orange County has operated as a multi-program non-profit with the mission to nourish the wellness, purpose and dignity of older adults and their families in our community.
Due to COVID-19, we have had to make adjustments in how we deliver our services. We have done additional safety training in social distancing and have provided safety gear and supplies to our volunteers delivering meals – whether directly to our clients or at the converted “Grab n’ Go” [to go] senior center sites.
Discounting the obvious risk to our clients due to their age and possible health issues, an additional issue is the increased isolation and depression due to having to shelter in place. Family who may have at least visited on the weekends cannot do so now – or, if they do, they bring a risk of infection into the home with them. Participants at our Lunch Cafes are experiencing a big increase in isolation and feelings of loneliness, because they at least had a social gathering to look forward to on the weekdays. Now – they have nothing but possible phone calls. Many who were able to go out periodically during the week are now fearful of leaving their homes for any reason due to possible health risks – or just the overall anxiety of being exposed to this virus. Some older adults may have still been working and are now facing that sudden decrease in income, just like the rest of us.
How is Meals on Wheels funded? How has the pandemic impacted this aspect?
In normal circumstances, the government funds about 56-60% of our budget through the Older Americans Act. This amount varies depending on what else the government has going on – they sometime decrease, sometimes increase. In addition, we are funded the rest of the 40% through grants, client and public donations, and our major fundraiser, the Senior Care Hero Awards. During the COVID [sic] crisis, we are incurring additional expense at an enormous rate due to the rapid increase in need for food support. We have been fortunate to receive some additional government funding, and have been able to apply for and receive many emergency grants. We have seen an outpouring of public support in the form of both monetary donations, in-kind donations and offers of volunteer support. But, we need more – the longer this goes on, the more older adults that contact us needing food. And the money that we were able to receive from clients in forms of donation is non-existent now because so many of them are suffering financially.
How has Meals on Wheels continued to operate in spite of shelter-in-place orders?
Traditional Home-Delivered Meals on Wheels are intended for homebound older adults age 60-plus who are not able to cook for themselves. During the COVID-19 outbreak, in addition to our regular routes, which are still being delivered by volunteers, we are working with local cities to deliver frozen meals to the homes of older adults new to the program who do not have someone who can pick up meals for them at the senior centers. To ensure social distancing and avoid congregating per the State of California Stay Home order, the Lunch Café program for adults age 60-plus, which normally provides a hot lunch in social settings at local senior and community centers, is now providing Grab 'n' Go [to go] frozen meals that can be picked up at the centers[... ] Meal recipients are given the opportunity to provide a voluntary contribution for meals, and no one will be turned away due to the inability to contribute.
Regarding our Adult Day Health Care (ADHC) and Adult Day Care – we have gone telephonic! Our social workers are checking in on our clients through phone calls and, with the help of our clients’ family members, of whom many are also staying home, we have initiated Zoom calls and even an Activity blog to keep our clients active and engaged physically. We have also encouraged our Friendly Visitors to set up phone calls, FaceTime, etc, with the older adults they normally visit just to keep up with the socialization our clients so desperately need.
What can we do to help?
You can help by liking and sharing all our social media posts with your circle of influence. The more our information that is out there, the more people that might tend to align with us and support us. And, by following us in social media, you may also be able to pass our information on to an older adult or family member or friend who needs to know about us. And for those who can, we ask that they support us by a donation – something as small as a recurring $10 or $20 monthly donation adds up quickly – or just a one-time donation is fine, as well! Have fun with it - do a virtual Zoom party and have our link for donations.
Why is it important for young people to care?
It’s important for every person to care about all those who are struggling – young, old or in-between. There is no age limit to compassion. And as hard as it is to think so now, one day we will ALL be “older adults” in need of some type of assistance. They say that “children are our future” – but would we even have that future without the soldiers who fought for our freedom in WWII? Without the nurses, doctors, teachers, policemen, etc, who served previous generations so that we could exist now? The older person that you help may have been the teacher that inspired the young person who became the scientist that is currently working on a COVID [sic] vaccine! There is value to every person – and the longer you live, the more value you have. We all need to honor that.
Find out more and what you can do to help at mealsonwheelsamerica.org.
Meals on Wheels by ACC. (2010). Retrieved 26 April 2020 from https://www.mowsac.org/community-need/.
Institute on Aging (IOA). (2018). Retrieved 26 April 2020 from https://www.ioaging.org/aging-in-america.