Make A Difference with Just a Meal

San Diego's Meals on Wheels

San Diego's Meals on Wheels

America, let’s do lunch. No, I’m not talking about having lunch with the collective 300 million Americans. I’m talking about the verb, the action, actually doing lunch. Or in other words, giving lunch. 

This is the tagline for the national nonprofit organization Meals on Wheels America, which operates in almost every American city to provide senior citizens, age 60+, with hot, fresh and healthy meals every day. See, that’s what they do: lunch. And dinner. Seven days a week, all year long, including holidays. The organization serves almost 2.5 million seniors annually.

For many seniors across the country and here in San Diego, Meals on Wheels provides meal security, especially as many elderly citizens grow unable to prepare their own food. If you think about it, cooking requires a lot of steps—shopping for fresh ingredients, washing and slicing meat and vegetables, cooking over a hot stove or oven, plus cleanup. Add in the limited mobility of age and cooking can become quite the chore. With Meals on Wheels, the menu is designed by a registered dietician, the meals are prepared in advance by professional chefs, and each meal is delivered daily by smiling volunteers. 

According to the organization, one in six seniors faces the threat of hunger and 25% live in isolation. In San Diego, nearly half of the clients served in 2015 lived alone. This means that for many seniors, the only person they might see all day is a volunteer delivering a hot meal. 

Hence, the tagline. “Let’s do lunch” implores people to donate their lunch breaks to the senior citizens of their community. Your 45 minutes for fast food and some Facebook time can turn into making a real difference in the lives of the elderly—not only through meal security, but also through conversation and companionship that some seniors aren’t getting. Additionally, volunteers act as a safety check, making sure that clients are healthy and uninjured day to day.  

Meals on Wheels is about refusing to let the elderly be forgotten, but their efforts also provide peace of mind and quality of living. Nationally, 92% of seniors say that Meals on Wheels has allowed them to keep their independence and remain in their own homes instead of a nursing facility or senior living community. Not to mention that Meals on Wheels is remarkably affordable. Lunch and dinner is just $7 per day. According to the organization, it’s cheaper to feed a senior citizen for an entire year than for one person to spend one day in the hospital or six days in a nursing facility. Plus, through partnerships in the San Diego community, Meals on Wheels also helps provide Animeals, which feed pets for free, as well as other free services like visits from therapy dogs, smoke detector replacement, and minor home cleanup and repairs. 

For more than 3,000 seniors in the greater San Diego area, Meals on Wheels is indispensable, and that number is about to jump. The senior population here is expected to double between 2010 and 2030 (that’s 20 years sooner than the national statistic is expected to double). The Baby Boomer generation grows into senior citizenship by the thousands every day, in a surge some are calling a “silver tsunami” or “the age wave.” With an expanding number of clients comes an expanding need for local volunteers. 

Of course Meals on Wheels accepts donations, and most of its funding comes from individual and corporate giving. The organization also holds multiple fundraising events throughout the year in San Diego. But the best thing to give? Your time.  

Volunteers are integral to the program—in fact, they’re the wheels! More that 2,800 people volunteered with Meals on Wheels in San Diego in 2015, delivering almost half a million meals to seniors across the entire county, including rural areas. Volunteers drive their personal vehicles to pick up and deliver meals near their home or office, and the organization only asks for a commitment of two to three times per month. You can also get involved at the meal center, in office, or as event support. Meals on Wheels has four service centers in metro San Diego, East County, South County and North County, with a meal center and an administrative center downtown. Applications can be found online. 

It’s easy to get involved with the program and in the community, and all it takes is a couple lunch breaks a month. Considering how my lunch breaks are usually spent, I can definitely make better use of the time. Maybe you could, too. Maybe you’re already thinking, “Hey San Diego, let’s do lunch.”

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