While the past several months has brought devastating headlines of COVID-19 outbreaks, Meals on Wheels Orange County brings relief each day to thousands of the county’s most vulnerable residents. As the demand for older adult meals has surged, we’ve teamed with partners and supporters to secure emergency funds to serve more meals than we ever thought possible. We have received more than $700,000 in funds from the community.
Meals on Wheels OC is committed to providing resources to keep our older adults safe and nourished throughout the pandemic and beyond.
As the largest nonprofit provider of senior nutrition and supportive services in Orange County for over 50 years, Meals on Wheels OC proudly serves older adults in 20 cities throughout Central and Northern Orange County.
We offer meals to isolated, low-income seniors 60+ through our traditional home delivered Meals on Wheels program and Senior Lunch Cafés (now “Grab & Go” frozen meals) at local community centers.
Unprecedented Emergency Response
Meals on Wheels typically services a million meals to 10,000 clients annually. This year, across all our programs, we expect to serve more than 2 million meals to older adults in need.
Rapidly expanding meal production to meet the surging demand is a formidable task. We swiftly added meal production shifts, hired new staff, secured additional raw food and packaging materials, and re-wired to add additional freezers. We adjusted our delivery routes and recruited and trained additional volunteers.
From the onset, Meals on Wheels OC collaborated with our heroic county, city and community partners, generous funders and volunteers who make our daily operations possible. The volunteer response has been amazing with more than 1,200 inquiries from people eager to work on the front lines.
Keeping Seniors Safe at Home
We’ve worked diligently to ensure strict compliance with all recommended CDC safety guidelines for meal distribution, including the use of PPE and the practice of social distancing.
Our Senior Lunch Café was dramatically impacted by the crisis. Prior to COVID, our community lunch program served 5,000 hot, nutritious meals each week, and since transitioning to Grab & Go frozen meals, we’re serving an incredible 30,000 meals to over 6,000 seniors each week. To put that in perspective, we are serving the nearly same number of meals in four weeks that we would normally serve in six months.
Available to any senior, whether a long-time participant in our Senior Lunch Café or someone newly impacted by the pandemic, Grab & Go provides meals picked up weekly curbside or via walk-up at community centers at designated times.
Mary, Susan and Gloria are a few examples of older adults who suddenly found themselves in need of our services. After experiencing a financial setback when Mary’s dog-walking business was no longer viable, she relied on Grab & Go meals.
Susan was attracted to the program to limit her trips to the grocery store and reduce the risk of contracting the virus. A new home-delivered Meals on Wheels client, Gloria, has pre-existing health conditions, doesn’t drive, and is “terrified to walk out the door” for fear of contracting the virus. All three have shared that our services have been lifesaving during the pandemic.
Collaboration, Community and Beyond
We also serve as program administrator for Orange County’s temporary initiative, Great Plates Delivered, which is funded in part by the California Office of Emergency Services, allocated by the Orange County Board of Supervisors and administered by the Office on Aging.
Helping to address food insecurity during COVID-19, we coordinate with restaurants to deliver three meals a day to the homes of more than 6,000 income-qualifying, self-isolating older adults and have served more than 980,000 meals as of mid-September.
We continue to maintain our Adult Day Services, also greatly impacted by the pandemic. Since our frail clients must remain at home, we’ve converted these on-site programs to well-check calls and porch visits through our Adult Day Services On The Go, and for many, Meals on Wheels delivery and special activity packets to reduce the impact of forced isolation.
Whether through emergency meal distributions or regular services, our programs reduce hospitalizations and help older adults maintain and improve their health, supporting their independence and strengthened social connections.
Community resources are vital to sustain these unprecedented efforts. After the pandemic is behind us, we still have a big job ahead. We anticipate that many recipients of emergency meals will become long-term clients.
The Coming Elderly Boomers
In the coming 20 years, the number of OC older adults is expected to double when one in four residents will be 65 or older.
The rate of food insecurity, which we define as those who lack consistent access to enough food for an active and healthy life, is increasing. In 2013-14, 22% of low-income older adults experienced food insecurity. By 2018, that rate had grown to 29.4%, according to a California Health Interview Survey.
In nominal terms, anywhere from 20,000 to as many as 38,000 older adults experience food insecurity in Orange County.
Meals on Wheels OC is determined to strengthen our capacity to end food insecurity and isolation for older adults. Public and private funding and donations, corporate resources and dedicated volunteers make this work possible. We simply cannot do it alone. With the community’s ongoing support, we will be able to continue our life-saving resources for older adults in Orange County.
Editor’s Note: Holly Hagler is CEO and president of Meals on Wheels Orange County, one of California’s largest safety-net nonprofits for older adults. Meals on Wheels Orange County ranked No. 33 on the Business Journal’s annual list of nonprofits, reporting $14.2 million in revenue for the 12 months ended June 30, 2019. She is a board member for the national Meals on Wheels America association and serves on the leadership council for the OC Strategic Plan for Aging and as co-chair of the OC Aging Services Collaborative. To learn more, visit www.MealsOnWheelsOC.org.