Meals on Wheels: Mid-South seniors receive nutritious meals, home visits

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A program that helps senior citizens survive with food and other services is celebrating 50 years.

Since March 1972, the national Senior Nutrition Program has supported nutrition services for older adults across the country. Funded by the Older Americans Act, local senior nutrition programs serve as hubs for older adults to access nutritious meals and other vital services.

Meals on Wheels is a major part of that mission. Every year in Memphis and Shelby County, MIFA’s Meals on Wheels program provides more than 500,000 meals to more than 3,000 seniors.

Ruby Brown, of Whitehaven, is one of those seniors.

“I’ve been using it now about four years; they come three days a week, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday,” Brown said. “It’s a way for you to get a meal. It’s a big help for people who don’t have anyone to fix them a meal. It’s a real good program.”

The service is provided to seniors, not based on their income, but on their “food insecurity,” or their inability to access healthy food. According to the most recent State of Senior Hunger in America study, Memphis has the highest senior food insecurity rate of any large metropolitan city in the U.S. at 15.6%.

“It’s more than a meal because it’s one-third of the daily nutrition required for seniors,” said Arnetta Stanton Macklin, MIFA Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer. “So we usually have a meat and two vegetables, a dairy product, trying to cook with a lot of Splenda vs. sugar, chicken bouillon vs. salt, because a lot of seniors do have, in addition to food insecurity, health issues as it relates to diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol. So we try to use very healthy food for that hot meal.”

MIFA Meals on Wheels has provided home-delivered meals since 1976 and congregate meals since 1981. It also takes part in the annual month-long March for Meals celebration, which commemorates the historic day in March of 1972 when President Nixon signed into law a measure that amended the Older Americans Act of 1965 to include a national nutrition program for seniors 60 years and older.

“The Older Americans Act not only focused on the senior nutrition needs, but whatever the senior needs as it relates to home and community based care,” said Stanton Macklin. “So they we have so many programs, like a transportation program. The purpose of the act was to support the independence of vulnerable seniors in our community.”

In celebration of the 50th anniversary, MIFA invited elected officials called Community Champions to deliver meals and serve at congregate sites during March for Meals. Employees from Memphis Police Department and the Shelby County Crime Victims and Rape Crisis Center have kicked off the campaign by serving meals.

Stanton Macklin said, “This program (Meals on Wheels) provides much more than a meal, but that one on one contact with seniors helps to reduce isolation, depression, and helps for them to age in their homes gracefully. That one-on-one contact is very, very important because sometimes it offers a safety check for seniors.”

Stanton Macklin says you don’t have to be a council member to make a difference. She says MIFA is always looking for extra hands to help, to volunteer to provide meals - and more - to seniors.

“So they won’t be so lonesome,” said Brown. “I think a lot of them need to get out and have visitors and stuff.”

If you’d like to volunteer, visit MIFA’s website.