Meals on Wheels America is the leadership organization supporting more than 5,000 community-based programs across the country that are dedicated to addressing senior isolation and hunger. This network serves virtually every community in America and, along with more than two million staff and volunteers, delivers nutritious meals, friendly visits, and safety checks that enable America’s seniors to live nourished lives with independence and dignity.
By providing funding, leadership, education, research, and advocacy support, Meals on Wheels America empowers its local member programs to strengthen their communities, one senior at a time.
Social isolation and loneliness are public health crises with serious negative health and well-being consequences impacting millions of older adults, both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. One in four seniors lives alone, and one in four is lonely, increasing their susceptibility to a number of harmful health issues that could impede their ability to stay in their homes and out of institutional settings. Many of the factors that make older adults more susceptible to social isolation and loneliness – like living alone or having past experience with falls – are commonly found among individuals receiving Meals on Wheels. In fact, for many homebound Meals on Wheels recipients, the person delivering their meal may be the only person they see that day or even that week. Receiving home-delivered meals has been shown to lead to greater improvements in anxiety, self-rated health, isolation, and loneliness, and we know our services can act as a powerful preventive measure against future costly deterioration of health and well-being among older adults.
Meals on Wheels staff and volunteers are an invaluable part of seniors’ social networks, providing critical face-to-face social contact and opportunities for meaningful conversation through every meal delivery. More and more, local Meals on Wheels programs have also begun to supplement the social interactions that occur during regular meal deliveries and congregate meal gatherings with Friendly Visitor programs, pet programs, telephone “visits,” household chore assistance, and other formalized socialization services as a way to combat social isolation and loneliness and build quality connections with homebound and vulnerable seniors. Meals on Wheels America is committed to helping those local programs to improve the health and quality of lives of the seniors they serve so that no one is left hungry or isolated. Now more than ever, we are committed to deploying effective solutions to foster human connections with Meals on Wheels clients. We understand the importance of exploring, implementing, and scaling evidence-informed solutions to better address the changing nutrition and social needs of the clients we serve. As such, we are currently conducting a number of research and pilot efforts to better understand the effectiveness of socialization programming delivered by Meals on Wheels programs and will continue to do so throughout 2021.
In the summer of 2020, Meals on Wheels America and Caesars Foundation hosted the virtual National Social Isolation Summit to further explore what we know about social isolation and loneliness among older adults and consider how we can collaborate to address these issues. Materials from this summit and relevant supplemental learning resources are available on this webpage.
Meals on Wheels America worked with our association membership of local community-based Meals on Wheels programs to develop a comprehensive, data-driven national profile of Meals on Wheels clients and the programs that serve them. A component of the resulting report takes a closer look at some of the formal socialization offerings local programs provide beyond those that occur with regular meal deliveries and congregate meal gatherings.
Meals on Wheels recipients report improvements in feelings of isolation and loneliness, as well as general mental health. Use the Local Program finder to identify the Meals on Wheels provider closest to you or a loved one and give them a call.