Food Is Just One Serving Of What Meals On Wheels Gives Seniors

Mar 23, 2017
Originally published on March 26, 2017 5:27 pm

Meals on Wheels brings food to hundreds of thousands of homebound seniors and people with disabilities. But President Trump's proposed budget has this community-based program, like many others, facing cuts.

On a hazy morning, Alan Zebker and and Vicki Kysella are organizing packages of food in the back of Zebker's SUV. They're volunteers with Meals on Wheels West in Santa Monica.

They've got their routine down.

"Alan packs the bags; I make the deliveries," Kysella says.

"When she's delivering, I pack more bags," Zebker says.

Every client gets a hot meal along with a couple of lighter meals or snacks. Altogether, it provides a day's worth of calories: about 2,000 in total.

Kysella's been volunteering for about six months. She's found that Santa Monica's upscale, beachy image masks a lot of isolation and suffering.

"I just didn't believe that people with these sorts of disabilities or their lack of mobility were living in these apartments virtually next door to me," she says. "It's just very eye-opening."

Kysella works with a farmers market to add some fresh fruits and vegetables to the packages she delivers. Client Betty Hanover is thrilled with the zucchini, the lettuce and the enormous grapefruit.

"Oh, there was so much good stuff today," Kysella says.

Hanover thanks her. "You're just so good to me," she says.

Hanover is 93. She can't drive to the market because of her poor eyesight. She can't walk there because she can't be on her feet for very long. Meals on Wheels, she says, makes all the difference.

"It helps me stay in my own home here rather than go to a nursing facility," she says.

Meals on Wheels could bring Hanover food for nearly seven years for the cost of just one month in a nursing home. And that nursing home cost would probably be paid for by Medicaid. But saving the government money isn't why Hanover loves to hear the Meals on Wheels volunteers knock on her door.

"It's my big meal of the day and big excitement of the day," she says. "It's fun."

As we've reported, Meals on Wheels gets a little over a third of its money from the federal government. The rest comes from local governments, foundations and individuals. But each of the 5,000 local Meals on Wheels programs has its own mix of funders.

The federal program slated for elimination, called Community Development Block Grants, supplies very little money for Meals on Wheels overall. But in some locations, it's crucial, says Ellie Hollander, the president of Meals on Wheels America.

"I know we have a couple of programs in Pennsylvania and at least two that I've talked to in Michigan that are very concerned about the elimination of those grants," she says.

Most of the federal money for Meals on Wheels comes through the Older Americans Act. That's part of the Department of Health and Human Services budget, which is slated for a cut of nearly 18 percent. How that would affect Meals on Wheels, Hollander says, is anyone's guess.

"It would be difficult to imagine a scenario that would be free from harm," she says.

Studies show that Meals on Wheels protects its clients from harm. They have better nutrition, fewer hospitalizations and fewer falls.

Vickey Healy, 75, became a Meals on Wheels client after she suffered a serious fall in her bathroom.

"I was there for one night and two days," she says.

Now that she has Meals on Wheels, she's doesn't think she would wait so long to be rescued.

"I realize the value of having somebody come every day and I know they're going to come," she says.

It brings her food, a little company and peace of mind.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Let's stick with policy questions we're talking about now. President Trump's budget would eliminate funding for some programs that help provide affordable housing and other services for the poor and elderly. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney says these programs don't work. One of them is Meals on Wheels.

Now, that caught the attention of NPR's Ina Jaffe who covers aging. She went on delivery rounds with Meals on Wheels volunteers to see how they and their clients feel about the service.

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: On a hazy morning, Allan Zebker and Vicki Kysella are organizing packages of food in the back of Zebker's SUV. They're volunteers with Meals on Wheels West in Santa Monica. They've got their routine down.

VICKI KYSELLA: Allan packs the bags (laughter). I make the deliveries.

ALLAN ZEBKER: And while she's delivering, I pack more bags.

JAFFE: Every client gets a hot meal along with a couple of lighter meals or snacks. Altogether, it provides a day's worth of calories, about 2,000 total. Kysella also works with a farmer's market to add some fresh fruits and vegetables to the packages she delivers.

She knows client Betty Hanover will really appreciate them.

KYSELLA: So today I'm giving you a giant grapefruit, a couple zucchinis and a lettuce.

BETTY HANOVER: Oh.

KYSELLA: I know.

HANOVER: Oh, thank you so much.

KYSELLA: There was so much good stuff today. You're welcome.

HANOVER: You're just so good to me.

JAFFE: Betty Hanover is 93. She can't drive to the market because her eyesight is bad. She can't walk there because she can't be on her feet very long. She says Meals on Wheels makes all the difference.

HANOVER: So it helps me stay in my own home here rather than go to a nursing facility.

JAFFE: Meals on Wheels could bring Betty Hanover food for nearly seven years for the cost of just one month in a nursing home, and that nursing home cost would probably be paid for by Medicaid. But saving the government money isn't why Hanover loves to hear the Meals on Wheels volunteers knock on her door.

HANOVER: It's my big meal of the day and the big excitement of the day. It's fun.

JAFFE: Meals on Wheels gets a little over a third of its money from the federal government. The rest comes from local governments, foundations and individuals. But each of the 5,000 local Meals on Wheels programs has its own mix of funders.

The federal programs slated for elimination called Community Development Block Grants supplies very little money for Meals on Wheels overall, but in some locations it's crucial says Ellie Hollander president of Meals on Wheels America.

ELLIE HOLLANDER: I know we have a couple of programs in Pennsylvania and at least two that I've talked to in Michigan that are very concerned about the elimination of those grants.

JAFFE: Most of the federal money for Meals on Wheels comes through the Older Americans Act. That's part of the Department of Health and Human Services budget which is slated for a cut of nearly 18 percent. Hollander says how that would affect Meals on Wheels is anyone's guess.

HOLLANDER: It would be difficult to imagine a scenario that would be free from harm.

JAFFE: Studies show that Meals on Wheels protects its clients from harm. They have better nutrition, fewer hospitalizations and fewer falls. Seventy-five-year-old Vickey Healy became a Meals on Wheels client after she suffered a serious fall in her bathroom.

VICKEY HEALY: And I was there for one night and two days.

JAFFE: Now that she has Meals on Wheels, she doesn't think she would wait so long to be rescued.

HEALY: I realize the value of having somebody come every day, and I know they're going to come.

JAFFE: Bringing her good food, a little company and peace of mind, Ina Jaffe, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.