Why Should I Care? Every day, older adults across America go to bed hungry, which negatively impacts their health and well-being. As health care, food, and energy costs have continued to rise in recent years, older Americans, especially those living on fixed incomes, are finding their resources being increasingly stretched. This financial strain often means having to choose between paying for medicine and buying groceries. Hunger and undernourishment can impact the health of any person, but older adults are particularly vulnerable. Proper nutrition contributes substantially to the health, self-sufficiency, and quality of life for seniors. At the same time, older adults are at greater risk for illnesses tied to poor nutrition, including deficiency diseases and impaired digestion. As the population ages in the United States, health problems caused by malnutrition will continue to be a contributing factor to the rising costs of public and private health care programs in America.
What Can I Do? Volunteer at the local Meals On Wheels or Agency on Aging
There are plenty of volunteer opportunities at Meals on Wheels programs near you. People with all schedules, interests and abilities can help at a local Meals on Wheels program - whether they want to be hands-on or behind the scenes or whether they can volunteer during weekdays or only on evenings and weekends. The following are some examples of volunteer opportunities that exist at local Meals on Wheels programs: Drivers and Runners, Office Help, Meal Preparation and Packaging, Telephone Calls to check up on beneficiaries and Senior Center Aides.
Help Seniors learn about and apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Wherever low income seniors may gather - religious organizations, community centers, senior centers, or food banks - there is an opportunity to help them enroll in SNAP. Volunteer to screen people for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and talk to them about other nutrition education programs at http://www.snap-step1.usda.gov/fns/
Offer to pick up food or drive seniors to the grocery store, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program offices or congregate meal sites Transportation is a huge challenge for seniors and you can make a difference in their ability to access healthful food by supporting the needs of the seniors in your neighborhood.
Impact of Volunteering One of the most important ways that you can help hungry senior citizens is to volunteer for your local Meals on Wheels program. Currently Meals on Wheels utilizes 1.2 million volunteers nationwide to distribute meals to seniors and the home-bound. However, to meet their current needs, Meals on Wheels programs need one million additional volunteers. Currently, two out of five Meals on Wheels programs in cities and towns across America have a waiting list. With additional volunteer help, Meals on Wheels could dramatically increase its ability to feed hungry seniors.
Success Stories Kelly Cannon, 29, has been delivering meals in Alexandria, Virginia for the past few months. Wanting to give back to her community, Kelley looked at a few different non-profit organizations before deciding to volunteer for Meals on Wheels. "There are many organizations in my community that are great and need help, but I decided to deliver meals to seniors in need because of the way their faces light up when I walk through their door," says Kelley. "Working with Meals on Wheels means as much to me as it does those who I help."
Cletus Gerber has been a volunteer driver for Meals on Wheels of Stark & Wayne Counties in Ohio for 17 years. He's never missed a day, except for when he was recuperating from quadruple-bypass heart surgery in 1996. Cletus Gerber is the embodiment of the selfless service shown by the agency's 400 volunteers. And, oh, yes - he's 87 years old. But he's not complaining, because he knows that the people on the delivery route he drives every week depend on him - particularly his fellow seniors. "I always enjoyed being around older people. Of course, I guess I am one, now," he said with a chuckle. "But it's a joy for me. It's not a hardship or anything." Gerber retired from farming in 1987. He had frequently noticed ads and other announcements about the need for volunteer drivers with Meals on Wheels, so he decided to give it a try. "I'm glad I did. It's been a great experience," he said. "I've made a lot of new friends, and renewed some old acquaintances. It's rewarding to help people. You can comfort them, too," he said. "It's a blessing to me personally. I'm getting as much of a blessing out of it as the people I'm helping are."