Meals on Wheels offers more than just a plate

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A truck containing meals to be delivered to senior citizens pulls away from the Tri-County Office on Aging in Lansing.

Photo Credit: Colin Donnelly

A truck containing meals to be delivered to senior citizens pulls away from the Tri-County Office on Aging in Lansing.

Casey Copp loads boxes of pre-made meals into the back of a truck outside Lansing’s Tri-County Office on Aging. It’s a weekly thing for him, as he says he enjoys giving back to his community.

“I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now,” Copp said. “It’s nice to know that you’re helping to put a smile on someone’s face and some food in their stomach.”

The only problem is, who knows how long Copp will be able to keep doing this.

President Donald Trump’s recent budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year includes increased investments in defense programs. However, these investments will be paid for through cuts to community service programs, such as Meals on Wheels.

Meals on Wheels is a national program that is focused on providing nutritious meals to senior citizens in order to help extend both their independence and their health. The program currently provides services to almost 2.5 million seniors across the United States.

The Tri-County Office on Aging serves seniors living in Clinton, Eaton and Ingham counties and the cities of Lansing and East Lansing. There are specific Meals on Wheels programs for each county, including one that is primarily focused on serving the Greater Lansing Area.

Over 1,000 seniors in the area benefit from Meals on Wheels through the Tri-County Office on Aging, and some, including Community Relations and Grant Manager Tammy Lemmer, are very worried about the possible budget cuts.

Over 111,000 senior citizens receive meals from Meals on Wheels in Michigan. Just over 48 percent of them have their meals home-delivered.

Information: Meals on Wheels America. Graphic: Colin Donnelly.

Over 111,000 senior citizens receive meals from Meals on Wheels in Michigan. Just over 48 percent of them have their meals home-delivered.

“We’re very concerned about any potential cuts because they might impact vulnerable elder adults across our service area,” said Lemmer.

For many seniors, Meals on Wheels provides the only hot food they have Monday through Friday. Hot and frozen meals are also available for those who need food on weekends.

Dr. Ellen Velie, an associate professor within Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine, says that Meals on Wheels provides quality nutrition that is essential to the health of seniors.

“Getting the right nutrition is very important at any age, but especially important for senior citizens,” Velie said. “Seniors need healthy, nutritious foods in order to continue to function at a high level.”

But the program doesn’t just provide nutrition for senior citizens; there is a social aspect, too.

Copp says that he once delivered food to a woman who lived all alone. Her husband had died a few years prior, and she said that she never really got out of the house much.

“Every time I’d deliver to her, she’d answer the door with a huge smile,” Copp said. “Most of the time, I was the only person she had talked to for a couple of days. That showed me just how important this program is.”

This graph shows how senior citizens feel about Meals on Wheels. Many say it improves their health, they feel they can continue to live at home, and they feel safe.

Information: Meals on Wheels America. Graphic: Colin Donnelly.

This graph shows how senior citizens feel about Meals on Wheels. Many say it improves their health, they feel they can continue to live at home, and they feel safe.

Many seniors who benefit from the services of Meals on Wheels live alone or with sick spouses. With volunteers coming to their doors to bring food and check up on them, it gives seniors a sense of well being and safety.

If the funding for Meals on Wheels is cut, who will check in on them?

“We will risk losing our check-in for seniors who don’t have someone there,” Lemmer said. “That person who’s knocking at the door is able to say hi … sometimes it’s the only person that client has seen.”

For now, Copp says he will continue to deliver meals to those who can’t prepare their own food. He’s worried about the possibility of the program being cut, but he’s going to keep doing what makes him, and others, happy.

“I’ll always come to the door with a smile on my face,” Copp says. “No matter what.”