One in six Oregonians over the age of 60 faces the threat of hunger. Home-delivered meal programs like Meals on Wheels provide older adults with nutritious food to maintain their health and independence. In Salem and Keizer, the meals are now delivered by Marion Polk Food Share.
There has been a home-delivered meal program to senior citizens and disabled adults in Salem and Keizer since 1970. Monday through Friday, more than 200 volunteers load freshly prepared meals into their cars and deliver them to homes of people who are unable to shop for and prepare food. The volunteers, many of whom have been volunteering for years or even decades, are delivering more than a hot meal. They are also delivering a smile, a handshake and social connection.
Senior hunger is a serious, though often overlooked, issue in Oregon. According to the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger, Oregon ranks 14th worst in the nation for this issue. Nearly 16% of older adults in Oregon are threatened by hunger, which is up from 14.6% in 2011.
Home-delivered meals programs like Meals on Wheels are a solution for seniors and disabled adults who otherwise struggle with getting enough healthy food to eat. Meals on Wheels offers not only a nutritious meal, but a daily visit with a friendly volunteer. This often enables people to continue living independently in their own homes.
The meals have been delivered by Salem-Keizer Meals on Wheels, which was an independent non-profit agency. In 2013, the board of directors began to look for ways to improve their services to the community. They approached Marion Polk Food Share, the regional food bank, to discuss transferring the program to the Food Share.
“We knew that Salem-Keizer Meals on Wheels was a lifeline for 190 people,” says Rick Gaupo, President and CEO of the Food Share. “The mission of Marion Polk Food Share is to lead the fight to end hunger in our community. When Meals on Wheels asked us to manage their program, we accepted because no senior in our community should go hungry.”
This fall, the boards of directors for both organizations voted that the Food Share should permanently take on Meals on Wheels.
“We’ve worked hard to make sure that very little has changed,” says Ian Dixon-McDonald, Vice President of Programs at the Food Share. “The meals are the same. The volunteers who make it all possible are the same. The commitment to the community is the same. Now we’re able to support all of those things with the benefits of the Food Share organization.”
“I used to be a professional with a lot of independence,” says Beatrice Canfield, a longtime recipient of Meals on Wheels. “Now I can’t go out anymore and have to depend on others. The people who deliver my meals are wonderful. They are professional, punctual and sweet-natured. We’ve become like friends.”
Meals on Wheels delivers meals Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. There is the option of having two frozen meals delivered on Friday for the weekend. The menus are reviewed by a registered dietician to meet American Diabetic and Heart Associations’ guidelines. All meals are prepared by a chef in the kitchen at Center 50+ in Salem. The cost is $4.50 a meal and financial assistance programs are available.
For information about how you can get involved with Meals on Wheels, including signing up to volunteer to deliver meals, making a donation, or ordering meals for yourself or someone you know, please call 503-364-2856.