Hunger is a very real problem in the United States. In 2019, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that 10.5% of all U.S. households are “food insecure.” Food insecure is defined as uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all the members of a household because of insufficient money or other resources for food.

Prior to the beginning of the pandemic, The Open Door food pantry, serving Gloucester, Rockport, Manchester, Essex and Ipswich, reported that it provided more than 1.3 million pounds of food to almost 7,000 individuals over 12 months. Beverly Bootstraps' food pantry distributed more than 325,000 pounds of food to nearly 2,500 individuals. These numbers did not include smaller food pantries throughout the North Shore or the other many food assistance programs in action. Since March 2020, the need for food pantry services has increased significantly. 

One successful food assistance program is the Meals on Wheels home-delivered meals program for home-bound elders. In February 2020, SeniorCare delivered Meals on Wheels to more than 550 elders each day. In addition, community dining sites on Cape and the North Shore were serving lunches to hundreds of elders. Since March, SeniorCare has seen a 40% increase in Meals on Wheels recipients. While the dining sites have been temporarily closed, several sites are offering hundreds of daily “Grab & Go” lunches. 

Meals on Wheels began in the United Kingdom during the World War II “Blitz.” As the number of homeless people grew due to bombing, the Women's Volunteer Service for Civil Defense began preparing and delivering meals — sometimes using old baby carriages to transport the food. This idea was adapted after the war to help elderly people who were having difficulties preparing their own food.

The first home-delivered meal program in the U.S. began in January 1954 in Philadelphia. Since then, Meals on Wheels has grown to be a nationwide program, feeding approximately 2.4 million elders annually.

Meals on Wheels is not just a nutrition program. In addition to lunch, the Meals on Wheels driver brings companionship and a watchful eye on the health and safety of seniors. Some recipients tell us that their driver is the only person they see on most days. 

In a survey of Meals on Wheels participants and their caregivers, SeniorCare received the following remarks:

“By having Meals on Wheels, I have more money to pay for my medications.”

“This is my only home-cooked meal.”

“Helps me stretch my food stamps each month.”

“It's nice to have someone visit daily.”

“As a caregiver, it gives me peace of mind while I’m working.”

“As a caregiver, it helps to know someone stops by every day to check.”

“I always look forward to a visit and a meal.”

“Seeing another person breaks up the monotony of a long, lonely day.” 

The Meals on Wheels nationwide program is celebrated with a “March for Meals” awareness campaign during March. Local government officials and business and community leaders are invited to ride along with a Meals on Wheels driver to learn more about this important program. This month, although the annual ride along could not happen, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, state Sens. Bruce Tarr and Joan Lovely, state Reps. Brad Hill and Jerry Parisella, and Mayors Sefatia Romeo Theken and Michael Cahill joined us in celebrating Meals on Wheels by providing video statements of support. You can view these statements online at www.seniorcareinc.org/march-for-meals-2021.

More information about SeniorCare’s Meals on Wheels or Grab & Go nutrition programs can be found at www.seniorcareinc.org or by calling Senior Care 978-281-1750 and asking to speak with the Nutrition Department.

Tracy Arabian is the communications officer at SeniorCare Inc., a local agency on aging that serves Gloucester, Beverly, Essex, Hamilton, Ipswich, Manchester, Rockport, Topsfield and Wenham.

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