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Why Meals on Wheels Matters

Maybe you are eating breakfast while reading this column. It’s just a normal part of your daily routine, starting with your coffee and choice of breakfast (muffin, cereal or maybe a decadent doughnut to start the day.) But did you know that next door, your older neighbor may have nothing in her refrigerator to choose for breakfast?

In Georgia, one out of every six adults over the age of 60 years does not know from where his next meal will come. We are the 7th-worst state in the nation when it comes to the number of seniors who are hungry. This is a “Top 10” list none of us can be proud to be on. 

NO ONE in our abundant nation should be going hungry…period. But it is a special challenge for those, such as older adults, who struggle with access to food. For many older adults, it may not be a monetary issue but a barrier of transportation and/or physical health that creates this perfect storm for hunger.

We all know the obvious: eating is essential for life and eating well is essential for good health. A healthy body needs less medication, can battle diseases easier, and functions longer. The benefits of eating also extend beyond the physical. Not being able to provide oneself with a basic, core need takes its toll emotionally. Studies by Brown University and the AARP Foundation showed that seniors who are struggling with food insecurity are more afraid, depressed, and anxious, resulting in both a significant diminishment in their quality of life and their physical well-being.

This is where Meals on Wheels/SAGE is a game-changer. For almost 60 years, Senior Citizens Inc. (SCI) has been delivering meals to the homes of older adults. In fact, we started providing home-delivered meals before there was a national program! Each day, SCI prepares and delivers 1,800 meals specifically designed for older adults throughout Bryan, Chatham, Effingham, and Liberty counties. Our clients can receive 1-3 meals for their day – and because we all deserve the pleasure of being able to choose, our meal clients get choices regarding their menu options. But the real power is that it’s more than a meal; each visit also means a friendly smile, a moment to ensure that everything’s all right, and a vital connection to the outside world.  

Meals on Wheels is a program that has been proven in national studies to result in happier, healthier older adults and communities that are also happier and healthier. At SCI, we see this power every day. That’s why we take part in a national effort every March to spotlight the importance of Meals on Wheels and home-delivered meals. We kicked off our “March for Meals” with what has become a tradition. Mayor DeLoach joined our hundreds of volunteers by delivering meals on Tuesday, March 6. This show of support means a great deal to our team of volunteers and staff and demonstrates the ease and reward of being a Meals on Wheels volunteer.

On Thursday, March 8, you can be a part of the effort simply by eating (and drinking) at Spanky’s on the River, Dub’s Pub on River Street, Tubby’s Tank House in Thunderbolt, Fiddlers on the Southside, and Molly McGuire’s on Wilmington Island. Be sure to let your wait staff know you’re there to support Meals on Wheels, and a portion of your bill will be used to feed a home-bound senior. Think of it as buying a meal, giving a meal!

Our culminating event for March for Meals is the eighth annual Miles for Meals 5k walk/run on Saturday, March 24 at 8:00 a.m. We'll start and finish at SCI Headquarters on Bull Street and Washington Avenue (3025 Bull Street). This is a fun event suitable for everyone in the family, even your dog! (By the way, did you know that SCI also delivers pet food for our meal clients so they won’t share their meal?) For more information, call SCI at (912) 236-0363 or go to www.runsignup.com/scimilesformeals to sign up.

It all sounds fun (and it is) but March for Meals is really about trying to ensure that every older adult has the nutritional support that everyone needs. SCI is proud that we offer our meals to anyone regardless of income. If someone can pay for the service, then meals can usually begin the next day.  But I would be remiss not to mention the more than 300 people in our community who need our daily meals but neither they nor we have the resources to provide them.

So if you can’t join us for lunch on March 8 or our race on March 24, maybe you can help by volunteering your time to deliver meals or pet food, or perhaps by making a donation (only $7 will feed someone for the day). Or let our legislators in Atlanta and Washington D.C. know that you believe in the power of Meals on Wheels. Most importantly, if it’s your neighbor who needs our nutritional support, let us know so that we can help. After all, the fight to end senior hunger belongs to all of us. I hope you’ll join us!

Patti Lyons is the President of Senior Citizens Inc., a nonprofit organization that has been helping people age successfully for almost 60 years.  She serves on the Meals on Wheels America Board and is a Governor’s appointee to the Georgia Council on Aging.