Central New York, Community, Food, Health, Syracuse

Meals on Wheels: More than Meals

Meals on Wheels is a national nonprofit that delivers meals, but, for many of their clients, it's much more than that.

By Amanda Caffey SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — Senior citizens make up about 21 percent of the population in New York. About 20 percent of those seniors are struggling with hunger because they cannot get out to buy food or cook for themselves.

Meals on Wheels is a national nonprofit that is dedicated to providing nutritious meals to high-risk seniors and disabled populations who might otherwise go hungry. In the last year alone, Meals on Wheels Syracuse delivered more than 215,000 meals in Syracuse, Skaneateles, Jordan-Elbridge, Onondaga Nation and surrounding areas. Despite “meals” being in the title, the organization is also focused on safety checks.

Michael Nortman, Meals on Wheels Syracuse community relations director, says the driver who delivers a client’s meal may be the only person they see that day. Some drivers have had to call 911 because when they arrived, the client needed help, but was unable to help themselves. About 400 people in the area wait for their driver to deliver their meals for the day. Nortman said many of their clients do not like Fridays because they will not see anyone until the following Monday.

A client who cannot be named for security reasons said, “Meals on Wheels is everything to me because I am a disabled vet with Parkinson’s and I’m getting to the point where I just can’t cook anymore for myself.”

Andrea Latchem, a Meals on Wheels Syracuse driver, said, “By the time I have delivered my route and people are so happy to see you and you’ve got a smile when you see them. I feel in really good spirits when I get back.”

However, Nortman said that Meals on Wheels, while necessary now more than ever, is looking at some serious funding cuts since the cuts to the Older Americans Act.

“Government sources have actually been fairly flat over the years,” said Nortman “and actually last November [Meals on Wheels] had to institute a waiting list.”

Up until this point, the Syracuse location has found the means to provide meals to those who are on the waiting list, but Meals on Wheels nationally has started an online campaign to boost funding. The organization is encouraging people to post on social media using the hashtag #savelunch to let Congress know that full-funding of Meals on Wheels is supported.

Nortman said supporting the “Save Lunch” campaign and volunteering locally by picking up a weekly route is a huge help.

Food service volunteers can work between 8:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. Monday through Friday and delivery volunteers work between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. See volunteer applications here.