Three senior citizens - Meals On Wheels America

Nonprofit Spotlight: Meals On Wheels America

The concept of Meals On Wheels first came to life during the Nazi bombing “Blitz” of the United Kingdom in Word War II. Some 2 million British homes were destroyed, rendering the families who once occupied them unable to cook. The Women’s Volunteer Service for Civil Defence provided food for these people. The spirit of that effort blossomed into significant meal distribution and nutrition programs in the US, the UK, Ireland, Australia and Canada. The first such program in the United States was established in Philadelphia in 1954.

Today, Meals On Wheels America is a network of over 5,000 community-based initiatives, serving vulnerable seniors in virtually every community in America. More than 2 million volunteers deliver balanced meals, offer friendly visits, and make safety checks, enabling older Americans “to live nourished lives with independence and dignity.” Prior to the pandemic, Meals On Wheels groups delivered approximately 220 million meals to 2.4 million seniors annually. Some 500,000 of the recipients are military veterans.


Facts and Statistics

A public-private partnership, Meals On Wheels America receives 39% of its funding under provisions of the federal Older Americans Act of 1965. The remainder comes from state and local governments, donations from foundations, corporations and individuals, and federal block grants. Unfortunately, the organization now provides 21 million fewer meals per year than it did in 2005 because costs have increased while funding has remained steady.

At the same time, the senior population in the United States is rapidly increasing. 12,000 people turn age 60 every day in this country. Currently, there are 58 million Americans age 60 or older, and that number is expected to increase to 118 million within 40 years. Nearly 10% of seniors are food insecure and over 12% live in poverty with an income of under $234 per week. 1 in 4 older Americans lives alone, and 1 in 5 feels socially isolated. (Again, these are pre-pandemic numbers.)

There are staggering costs related to these statistics. Meals On Wheels estimates that the impacts of social isolation are associated with $6.7 billion in annual Medicare expenses. Healthcare costs related to senior malnutrition stack up to another $51 billion each year.

COVID-19 Impacts

More concerning are the trends that have emerged in the past two months. Due to stay-at-home orders and other public health guidance, millions of older Americans have joined the ranks of those who need at-home services. Here are some pandemic-related statistics as of May 7:

  • 89% of Meals On Wheels programs have seen an increase in meal requests.

  • Of those, 79% report that meal requests have at least doubled.

  • On the west coast, roughly 1 in 6 programs have experienced at least a 900% increase in weekly meal requests.

  • On average, programs across the country are delivering 56% more meals and serving 22% more seniors.

There is no debate that older Americans have borne the brunt of this pandemic, and if we only examine infection, hospitalization and death rates, we vastly underestimate the true impact.

Ellie Hollander, President and CEO, Meals on Wheels America.

Supporting Our Seniors

The good news is that philanthropic groups and generous citizens are stepping up in a big way to support Meals On Wheels.

  • TikTok, the video-sharing social networking service, recently donated $2 million, and has launched “donation stickers” on its platform, enabling users to contribute with a click of a button. The company will match the first $10 million donated globally until May 27.

  • The ALL IN Challenge has already raised over $40 million for Meals On Wheels and other organizations that are tackling food insecurity. The digital fundraising platform was recently founded by billionaire Fanatics chairman Michael Rubin. It leverages the fan bases of the world’s preeminent sports, music and entertainment figures, who auction off prized possessions and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. 100% of the proceeds go toward the beneficiary nonprofits.

  • A selection of other notable recent gifts to Meals On Wheels:

    • The Horizon Community Funds of northern Kentucky has donated $200,000;

    • The Edwards Family Foundation of Tampa Bay, Florida has donated $100,000;

    • First Hawaiian Bank has donated $50,000, part of its ongoing “Aloha For Hawaii” initiative;

    • Delivery service Freshly and food conglomerate NestlĂ© have donated $500,000;

    • SECU Foundation of North Carolina has donated $500,000, part of a larger $5 million commitment to COVID-19 relief;

    • Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have donated $500,000.

How to take action

  • Make a donation: HERE

  • Volunteer to deliver meals: HERE

  • Learn how to advocate on behalf of American seniors: HERE

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