On meals and more: reflections from Iona’s Executive Director

April 3, 2017

Matilda Davis worked for the DC government for 18 years. When she retired, she didn’t receive as much money as she thought she would get, so she planned to pick up some work on the side. But then she had a stroke, which left her unable to stand to cook or go to the grocery store.

Today, she gets home-delivered meals through Iona Senior Services that give her peace of mind. In her words: “I don’t have to think, ‘What if I can’t get someone to go to the store for me?’ because I have the food here.”

As a national debate rages over funding for Meals on Wheels – the popular national food delivery program – I am reminded of the many people like Matilda Davis who I have met since I began working at Iona more than 30 years ago.

home delivered meals
Angela Mejia de Lopez has trouble cooking because of her impaired eyesight. Iona’s home-delivered meals have been a safety-net for her.

People like Mrs. de Lopez, who at 88 has trouble cooking because of her impaired eyesight. Or Mr. Gaymon, who received home-delivered meals from Iona after two heart attacks and knee replacement surgery.

Many of our clients are fiercely independent.

They are people who have worked for many years, often for the government, raised their children here, entertained friends, and enjoyed all our community has to offer. The last thing they thought they’d have to do is to ask for a hot meal.

Home-delivered meals have been an integral part of our service to the community for 27 years. Through the support of the DC Office on Aging, Iona offers nutritious and well-balanced hot and cold meals to older adults 60 and over.

Last year, 220 older adults received 45,506 meals from Iona. Many recipients live alone and most make an income that places them close to if not below the poverty level. It’s not unusual for Iona’s social workers to meet with seniors who, after the rent and bills are paid, have less than $100 left to buy food – for the entire month. In fact, more than 15,000 seniors living in the District – approximately 15 percent of the senior population – are living in poverty. Thousands more struggle to cover housing costs, medical care, and still pay for food on a fixed income, according to D.C. Hunger Solutions.

Home-delivered meals is a proven way to address hunger insecurity.

They “improve diet quality and increase nutrient intakes among participants,” according to a 2014 scientific study. And home-delivered meals are proven to be cost-effective, since keeping older adults in their homes is less expensive than nursing home care.

The need will only grow as the Baby Boomers age. According to Feeding America, “In 2040, there will be 79.7 million older adults, more than twice as many as in 2000. These changing demographics will have profound impacts on the demand for social services, especially the need for adequate and culturally-appropriate nutrition services.”

Closer to home, multiple public and private agencies cite an increased demand for senior food assistance in the face of flat or declining resources of lower and middle class residents, coupled with rising food prices. Food security is an ongoing challenge for the 14.5 percent of the District’s senior population living below the federal poverty line and for many more in the next higher income tiers. Nearly 10 percent of all District seniors, regardless of their income level, were worried about food running out sometime in the preceding year, according to the 2010 U.S. Census report.

Like many isolated older adults I’ve met over the years, Ms. Davis needs home-delivered meals to survive.

There are many ways we can support our older neighbors. Providing those in need with a reliable source of nutritious food is a good place to start. It’s the least we can do.

By Sally S. White

Sally S. White is executive director of Iona Senior Services and co-chair of the D.C. Senior Advisory Coalition. 


4 thoughts on “On meals and more: reflections from Iona’s Executive Director”

  1. It is heartbreaking to think of worrying about where your next meal will come from. I prepare meals for elderly people in my apartment house and know the joy it brings. I would like to be put on the list for delivery in an emergency. I cannot commit to a schedule but can always free myself to help. Thanks for this blog, Sally

  2. Your reflections are so accurate (and heartbreaking) and highlight a need that is only going to grow with the aging Baby Boomer population. Not only will the nutrition of so many seniors suffer, for some this is the only time during the week they interact with another person. I watched my mother go through this before she was forced to go into assisted living. We must find a solution to support our seniors!

  3. Indeed it is heart rending to note that our great land of prosperity and wealth is not able to feed our disabled and elderly! Nutrition is a very important part of good health not only for seniors but each individual. I hope and pray that our decision makers will re-consider their decision of stopping the program. It would mean starvation and many other related problems in our community.

  4. As someone who worked in an IONA program for 10 years , I saw the benefits of the food but also the social interaction that took place between the volunteer delivering the meal and the often isolated older person receiving it. As Sally said, many of the people who receive the meals are fiercely independent, having worked hard until retirement. In some cases, they had unmet needs which the volunteer could bring to an IONA caseworker’s attention. In one dramatic instance, the meal deliverer discovered that a woman’s heat had been cut off in error and she was suffering from hypothermia. But for intervention, she might have died. These programs are too vital to be reduced in funding!

Comments are closed.