My mom passed away 18 months ago, at the age of 93. She was an amazing woman. A single mom with only an eighth-grade education and no real marketable skills, I watched her work cleaning offices and waiting tables as I was growing up in order to provide a home for my brother and me. There were difficult times, financially and otherwise, but my mom rarely complained. To me, she always seemed to be so full of life and love, ready to help anyone in need. I miss her.
Thankfully, when I eventually became a pastor, I was able to help her, not only financially but in many other ways over her “golden” years. As it turned out, she moved in with me when she was 89, due to health concerns. The last two years, when she was bedridden and declining slowly, were tough, yet I now consider that period one of my greatest blessings. Those of you who’ve been through similar experiences with your loved ones know what I mean.
I often thought about what my mom would have done over the last few decades of her life if I hadn’t been there to help her, which brings me to the purpose of this article. Thankfully, I was blessed to live close to her and to make enough money to cover her with food and bills, but that’s not always the case with every family. Who would have helped her then?
For many homebound and elderly, the answer is Meals On Wheels. In case you are unaware, Meals On Wheels helps the elderly and homebound of our community, people just like my mom in the latter years of her life. There are 5,000 MOW programs across the country, including Meals On Wheels Plus right here in Bradenton. I know this because, in addition to being the pastor of Harvey Community Church in Bradenton Beach, I’ve also been blessed to be the Executive Director of the Meals On Wheels of Tampa program for the last 13 years.
The goal of MOW is to help the homebound and elderly remain independent, so they can remain living right where they want to be — in the comfort and security of their own homes. To accomplish this mission, a caring MOW volunteer delivers a hot, nutritious meal every day to the recipients (people like my Mom). It’s an incredible program, with far reaching outcomes.
The reality is our community, and our country, is facing some very important issues when it comes to caring for the elderly (and we’ll all get there soon!). Why? There are several reasons. Senior citizens are now the fastest growing population in our nation. Baby boomers are now retiring at an astounding rate of 10,000 per day, with statistics saying 30 percent have no monies set aside for retirement. And people are living longer, often into their late 80s and early 90s, many times causing them to run out of the funds they did set aside at retirement.
At the same time, the future of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid remain uncertain. Health costs continue to rise. Families are scattered across the country, making it more difficult for children to take care of their aging parents and grandparents.
National statistics say 1 in every 6 older Americans are unsure of where their next meal will come. I used to think there was no way that many were hungry. Now I wonder if there aren’t more. They’re referred to as the “hidden hungry,” these homebound and elderly right next door struggling with hunger.
So what do we do? What’s the answer to these mounting statistics and issues? I may not know all the answers, but I know at least one — it’s Meals On Wheels.
We as a community can work together to deliver food, nutrition, and daily visits, to help the homebound and elderly remain independent and living in the comfort and security of their own homes. And in the process, we help our community avoid far more costly health care choices, hospitalizations, and nursing home placements. It’s a win-win for everyone — homebound and tax-payers alike.
It was Charles Schultz, the creator of the “Peanuts” comic strip, who once said, “The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards. They are the ones who care.”
I’m hoping you’re one of the ones that care. If so, I encourage you to get involved and volunteer in helping our homebound and elderly. It makes a difference.
The Rev. Stephen J. King is pastor of Harvey Memorial Community Church, 300 Church Ave., Bradenton Beach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Services are at 9:30 a.m. Sundays. 941-779-1912.