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Meals on Wheels - Now Serving Nutritious Meals at a Senior Center Near You

 
Meals on Wheels is the most recognized nutritional meal program in the country. The program’s main distribution method is taking meals to seniors who are home bound but there are many other meal programs that provide hot, nutritious meals for seniors at local senior centers called congregate meal programs.

The Meals on Wheels program originated in Great Britain as a way to feed injured servicemen who could not feed themselves or leave their homes. The first program in the United States was started in Philadelphia in 1954. The United States program targeted home bound seniors who needed meal assistance. The program was funded through a grant from the Henrietta Tower Wurtz Foundation and pioneered by social worker Margaret Toy.

The Meals on Wheels program is headquartered in Virginia and led by CEO Enid Borden. The Meals on Wheels Association is the oldest meal delivery program for seniors in the country. The organization is a certified non-profit company.

The Meals on Wheels Association of America commissioned a study on the senior hunger crisis in America and found that well over five million seniors suffer from food insufficiency. The study found that low-income, ethnic minorities, renters, and people living in the South were more at risk than their peers. The study also showed two-thirds of the seniors suffering from hunger were Caucasian and the problem was distributed fairly even among rural and urban populations.

In recent times Meals on Wheels programs have suffered from budget cuts and have had to rely more on volunteers. They have also started to employ a new food distribution program where meals are not delivered to homes but are served at local senior centers.

These local congregate meal programs have several benefits for the participants and the local Meals on Wheels chapters that run them. In addition to the cost savings on transportation and staffing, the congregate meals on wheels programs benefit the senior in many ways.

A study done by the Administration on Aging showed that one congregate meal provided at least one-third of the daily nutritional needs of the seniors who participated showing how important the meals are in terms of dietary intake.

One congregate meal provided as much as fifty percent of the daily recommended allowance for some vitamins and minerals. The seniors who participated in the meals on wheels congregate programs were less likely to be deficient in overall calories, calcium, vitamin B6, and Zinc. In addition to the meal served at the senior center many participants also take home a snack or an extra meal allowing them to have access to more nutritional foods.

Along with the nutritional benefits of eating a congregate lunch the participants also benefit from the social interaction. Those attending a meal program at a senior center were able to develop senior support networks leading to healthy friendships, conversation, and camaraderie. The social aspect of Meals on Wheels congregate programs helps seniors find relief from loneliness, isolation, and even feelings of depression.

In a focus group of congregate meal participants conducted by Northwestern University, participants said the lunch program gave them something to look forward to and provided mental stimulation. They also mentioned that the program kept them feeling younger and mentally active.

The focus group also found that many participants were able to learn about other important senior services offered at their local senior center or other agencies in their community that they would not have known about had it not been for the Meals on Wheels congregate meal program.

Senior Citizen eating a meal at home
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