Meals-on-Wheels—the program many seniors find key to their nutritional health—is running on fumes, officials say.
“The recession has been very difficult,” said president and CEO Debbie Case, who noted Meals-on-Wheels has lost dozens of volunteers in recent weeks due to gas costs. “People think we hit our lowest point in 2008, but it’s really compounded the situation.”
On Wednesday, elected officials from throughout San Diego County will join a campaign to increase awareness about the mission of Meals-on-Wheels of Greater San Diego.
The campaign—celebrated by chapters throughout the country during March and labeled “Mayors for Meals Day”—asks for support in caring for the estimated 6 million senior citizens who go hungry each year in America.
The City of La Mesa has given regularly to the program. Online records of executive summaries for fiscal years 2008-09, 2009-10, and 2010-11 indicate that the City Council has allocated $6,000 per year to help the elderly in La Mesa.
More than 10 regional elected officials hope to change the drop in volunteers for Meals-on-Wheels.
“Our hope is that people will see the elected officials and be inspired by their efforts,” said development manager Stephanie DiStefano. “My grandmother raised me so I hold seniors very close to my heart. I can't imagine in my life ever waking up in the morning and wondering how I'm going to get my food. That should never be a concern for seniors.”
But for many seniors, it is a concern.
Case said on any given day, 131,000 seniors are at risk at going hungry in San Diego County and the economy isn't helping.
“The donations are difficult—people who used to give monthly or annually, don't anymore,” said Case who noted the program has 95 different routes each day—covering roughly 750,000 miles a year.
“Gas prices are hurting our volunteers. With gas prices soaring the way they do, we need 150 volunteers a day to deliver our meals and we need 2,300 volunteers on our roster at any given moment.”
This year, the 15-year-old campaign is especially important, said DiStefano.
DiStefano said Meals-on-Wheels is also celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Senior Nutrition Programs in the Older Americans Act, a piece of legislation that supports vital nutrition services for Americans age 60 and older.
“[The campaign’s mission] is twofold,” she said. “It’s the nutrition that the seniors need to stay healthy and it’s the social contact. Many times we’re the only social contact these seniors have because they are homebound seniors.
“We’re the first ones to realize a deterioration in health.”
To learn more about Meals-on-Wheels, visit the website.