Roughly half a million adults over the age of 50 reside in central Indiana. According to a report on the state of aging compiled by the Central Indiana Community Foundation and SAVI, a data hub for central Indiana, the older adult population in central Indiana is increasing at six times the rate of the younger population. Moreover, four in 10 adults live alone.
“If you think about risk factors for hunger and what people need, if they aren’t able to prepare a meal for themselves then living alone is going to be a big risk factor,” says Marina Keers, director of Hendricks County Senior Services (HCSS).
In addition, the report states that one in 10 older adults are food insecure. This could be because of lack of access to a grocery store, lack of transportation, lack of income or other factors. There are many reasons why someone might not be able to eat healthy meals regularly.
Each day HCSS serves meals to their residents prepared by the staff at Hendricks Regional Health (HRH). HRH also prepares meals for Meals on Wheels (MOW), and those meals are individually packaged and delivered to recipients at their homes. Because Hendricks County is growing at such a rapid rate, however, MOW leaders realized they needed to find a way to expand their operation in order to accommodate every senior who needs food. MOW turned to HCSS, which is currently in the process of refurbishing and expanding their kitchen so meals can be packaged there.
For years MOW and HCSS have partnered. It’s a natural partnership because both organizations have similar missions helping seniors remain independent and healthy in their homes. When talk of expansion began, the partnership grew.
“We’re happy to partner with an organization that’s serving the same group of people we are serving,” says Renee Harlor, program coordinator for Meals on Wheels. “Working together is key in working within the community.”
Keers says seniors have extensive needs in the local community.
“We must be responsive to those needs, and in this case alter our programing to meet those needs,” Keers says.
With this partnership, some things will change while others will remain the same. The HRH staff will continue to prepare nutritionally balanced meals. Instead of picking up the food at the hospital, however, volunteers will take the meals to HCSS in bulk to be packaged for individual distribution to the community. This expansion means both organizations will need additional funding to build out the kitchen, as well as additional volunteers to work in the kitchen. Volunteers are needed in other capacities as well.
“MOW, from what it was six months ago to what it is today, has really changed, so the need for volunteers has grown tremendously,” Harlor says.
Until recently, MOW primarily utilized volunteers as drivers. However, since COVID-19 took hold in the U.S., they have ramped up the social components that are so vital to senior health and well-being. Since more than half of their clients live alone, MOW has added connection calls and pen-pal programs into the mix.
“Social isolation has terrible impacts on health and well-being,” Harlor says. “We can bring them all the food in the world, but we have to make sure we’re providing other things that are needed as well.”
Harlor stresses that volunteers, who are trained, don’t need a specific skill set – just a desire to help.
Currently, MOW feeds between 110 and 125 people per day. Once the expansion is complete, their goal is to double the number of meals that go out the door for senior residents in Hendricks County.
“We’re excited to help Meals on Wheels expand the number of seniors who can receive a hot meal in Hendricks County,” Keers says.
Thanks to a partnership with Misty Eyes Animal Center, they are also providing free pet food for their clients, since many people experiencing food insecurity share their meals with their pets.
“Pets improve happiness and connection, so we want to take care of them too,” Harlor says. “Serving the food is our main goal, but again, helping people with their pets benefits them too.”
If you’re interested in volunteering or making a monetary donation, visit hcmealsonwheels.org or hcseniors.org.
Meals on Wheels is located at 1000 East Main Street in Danville. For more information, call 317-745-3469.