This year, we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of the federal Older Americans Act (OAA) Nutrition Program, which partially funds public-private organizations like Meals on Wheels. The government relies on agencies across the country to make these programs work. The Council of Aging of Central Oregon (CoA) and our local partners have managed the Meals on Wheels program and community dining in Central Oregon for nearly 50 years.
The positive effects of programs such as Meals on Wheels are well documented. Aging better depends on access to healthy, nutritious food and social interaction. More than 140 studies over four decades demonstrate the role of social connection in mortality, with a 29 percent increase in early deaths from social isolation, as reported in the journal Health Affairs.
Whether packing up or delivering meals, our volunteers and staff on the front lines have firsthand experience with Central Oregon seniors struggling to afford or prepare healthy meals.
After several months of picking up meals, a senior moving through the Council on Aging Grab-N-Go lunch line shared this: She was on her last $100. It’s only the 10th of the month, and she’s unsure what to do. She didn’t want to admit she needed help financially or that she was hungry, said Cathy Lang, site manager for the Bend Council of Aging of Central Oregon (CoA) Meals on Wheels and Community Dining programs.
Still, another senior casually mentioned that Lang is the only person she talks to all week. “And I only see her three times a week,” Lang commented. “Seniors won’t necessarily talk about hunger, financial, or other problems unless you get to know them a little bit. Once they start talking, hopefully, we can help them by providing referrals and other resources that support them as they travel along their aging pathway.”
Last October, Mary Lembi of La Pine began receiving Meals on Wheels after her husband died. The deliveries four days a week offer the sustenance she needs — in two ways.
“I don’t have enough income to buy groceries. I appreciate the people who come here for all they do, the deliveries, their words of encouragement. They are very kind, very noble people. Because of them, I get a chance to see people once in a while.”Mary Lembi
Despite COVID-19, CoA and partners served 150,000 meals last year across the tri-county. To accommodate more Meals on Wheels clients and to feed community diners two additional days a week, the agency also expanded its pantry offerings and staff support and volunteer assistance.
Healthy food and healthy seniors save taxpayer dollars
Poor health outcomes and expenses associated with food insecurity and isolation among seniors, such as falls and malnutrition, are exceptionally costly. According to a Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition study, the economic burden associated with older adult malnutrition is $51 billion annually.
At the core of the OAA Program is providing balanced nutrition. All meals are prepared with carefully considered, healthy ingredients. A qualified dietitian certifies menus that meet national dietary guidelines and recommended dietary allowances in compliance with national laws.
In most cases, seniors who receive Meals on Wheels home-delivered and prepared meals significantly improve their diet and nutrient intake and reduce their risk of food insecurity, according to the Journal of Nutrition Gerontology and Geriatrics.
“Overall, the clients are so thankful and so grateful for the meals that they receive,” said Tia Linschied, Bend meal site coordinator. “They look forward to getting their meal. It’s their happy time in the day.” These points of connection combine the benefits of high-quality, nutritious meals, a check-in on the health and well-being of senior participants, and a buffer to isolation.
During the 50th anniversary of funding for the OAA Nutrition Program, there is a lot to celebrate in its multi-purposed mission for healthy aging in place. The nutritious meals, friendly visits, and safety checks CoA and partners deliver through Meals on Wheels, and Grab-N-Go lunches help alleviate the hunger of our region’s seniors while simultaneously offering human connection and friendship to offset isolation.
“We are nourishing older adults, their bodies, and their souls.”Bernadette Handley, CoA nutrition operations manager
Through these food programs, seniors can maintain their independence and age in their place of choice while staying linked to their communities. Seniors know they are valued, receive consistent support, and access the resources and referrals they need to stay healthy while moving down a productive path of aging.
We Can Use Your Support
Please consider supporting these important programs at www.councilonaging.org/donate. If you are interested in volunteering please reach out to the Meals on Wheels/Grab-N-Go/Community Dining provider in your town:
- Bend and Sisters: www.councilonaging.org/volunteer or call (541) 678 5483
- La Pine Senior Center: https://lapineseniorcenter.org/volunteer/ or call (541) 536-6237
- Redmond Senior Center: https://redmondseniors.org/volunteer/ or call (541) 548-6325
- Prineville Senior Center Charitable Trust: (541) 447-6844
- Madras/Jefferson County Senior Center: (541) 475-1148