The Meals on Wheels Association of America is the oldest and largest national organization comprised of and representing local, community-based Senior Nutrition Programs in all 50 U.S. states, as well as U.S. Territories.
The Meals on Wheels program delivers meals to individuals, mainly elderly shut-ins at home, that are unable to purchase or prepare their own meals.
There are over 5,000 local Senior Nutrition Programs in the United States with roughly 80,000 and 1.7 million volunteers. These programs provide over one million meals to seniors who need them each day.
In Central Florida alone the number of people 55 and older who lack enough to eat are in the 100,000s and growing.
“Some individuals have just reached a stage in life where preparing their own meals is physically impossible for them.” says Robert Dent, spokesman for the Osceola Council on Aging, which operates the county’s Meals On Wheels program.
Unfortunately, as the gas prices continue to rise and the economy continues to plummet it has become increasingly apparent that feeding hungry seniors is a challenge when volunteers cannot afford to put gas in their cars.
In recent years, some 80 percent of Meals On Wheels programs have lost volunteers who drive the delivery routes in their own vehicles and pay for gas out of their own pockets. Forcing 25 percent of programs to slash their weekly deliveries.
For instance, in Orange County, FL over 300 volunteers deliver about 1,000 meals a day along more than 56 routes, with about 10 to 14 stops within a 20-mile average radius. Since the beginning of 2011, there have been 10 to 12 percent of volunteers resigning because they can no longer afford the gas bill, raising the waiting list to over 800 seniors.
Osceola’s program, which serves 175 homebound clients along roughly 20 routes, has been able to avoid waiting lists, but not the loss. 10 to 15 percent of volunteers resigned simply to find paying jobs.
Recently, an online fundraiser hosted by Seniors First tried to compensate the volunteer’s costs and raised about $3,000, or a $10 gas card for each of its drivers.
“It’s not really a lot,” Jan Ingrando of Seniors First acknowledges, “but it lets them know the community is behind them.”
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