Meals on Wheels helps seniors age in place

Meals on Wheels Atlanta volunteers and staff prepare meals to be packaged and sent out daily to almost 900 senior adults. Photo contributed by Meals on Wheels Atlanta.

Meals on Wheels Atlanta volunteers and staff prepare meals to be packaged and sent out daily to almost 900 senior adults. Photo contributed by Meals on Wheels Atlanta.

With the graying of the boomer generation, more tax dollars are starting to flow into services that help seniors age in place.

The governor's 2017 proposed state budget has increased funding for home and community-based services, providing seniors with the help they need to continue living independently. It includes more money for services such as transportation, home-delivered meals, light housekeeping, adult day care, respite care to give family caretakers a break, and home modifications, which provide for items such as grab bars for showers and ramps for steps.

While all play a role in helping aging seniors, one service tops them all: having access to a nutritious meal.

In needs assessments of seniors to determine how they can continue living independently, providing meals is the cheapest and most useful service, and is usually the first thing you can do to keep them at home, said Kathy Floyd, director of the Georgia Council on Aging.

It’s also an opportunity to discover what other needs are going unmet.

Volunteers for Meals on Wheels Atlanta routinely take prepared meals to the homes of almost 900 seniors, many of whom live in "food deserts," areas with limited access to fresh food.

“With volunteers going to the senior’s house several times a week this means someone is putting eyes on them. They can tell if there’s a decline in their health or if something else is wrong. That’s important for seniors as they age. We become like an extended family for them,” said Jason Tucker, director of meal services.

Volunteers are key to home delivery of meals to seniors. At Meals on Wheels Atlanta, about 95 percent of meals are delivered by volunteers, a cost savings of $1.6 million last year. Photo contributed by Meals on Wheels Atlanta.

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Many times the senior isn't able to prepare a meal because there's no way to get to the grocery store, said Connie White, a home and community-based services specialist with the 10-county Atlanta Regional Commission Area Agency on Aging. Others might be skipping meals so they can spend that money on medications, she said.

Senior hunger is a growing problem in the metro area, White said.

Of the proposed $4.2 million in additional funds for at-home services, $750,000 would be set aside specifically to fight senior hunger.

Georgia has the nation’s 11th-fastest-growing senior population, and there are 9,000 seniors on waiting lists for some type of at-home service. Home-delivered meals are the most requested needs-based service, and one with a long waiting list of qualified applicants. Floyd is hopeful the additional funding will help pare down the lists.

“This is so wonderful. I can just see the faces of all the people who will be helped with this money,” Floyd said. “This is a big success and we’re just so happy that Gov. Deal has for two years in a row recognized the need to put money into home and community services.”

In metro Atlanta, these funds are distributed through the Atlanta Regional Commission to private contractors who cobble together other monies from grants and fundraisers. During the past fiscal year, almost 600,000 meals were served to a client base of 3,738 in the 10-county area. The wait list for meals is about 650 at present, said White.

While some seniors need long-term meal service, others only need meal delivery for a few weeks following a hospital stay or rehab — just long enough for them to get back to their daily routine.

Meals on Wheels Atlanta operates on private donations, fundraisers, and by keeping government funding below 50 percent, according to Shannon Courtney, director of special events.

The nonprofit prepares and delivers meals to seniors in Atlanta and also provides congregate meals for seniors in Cobb County. Last year, volunteers delivered about 218,000 meals, serving 890 seniors. They are on target this year to deliver 250,000 meals, with a goal of doubling that in the next three years.

Finding enough seniors who need the service won’t be a problem, Tucker said. There are 150 seniors who are either going through the application process to receive services or they’ve been accepted and are on a waiting list.

Meals cost $5.75 each, and most seniors are getting five to seven meals a week. Delivery varies according to the client’s needs. About 95 percent of meals are delivered by volunteers, a cost savings of $1.6 million last year, Tucker said.

That’s money that can be used for other senior services provided by the organization.

“We would like to be able to do more for them, but it all starts with a meal,” Tucker said.

For more information, or to apply for meal services, contact Meals on Wheels Atlanta at 404-351-3889.


In order to qualify to receive meal services, meal recipients must be: 60 years and older; Fulton county residents; low income.

Meal delivery benefits seniors who are unable to prepare or afford the nutrition they need. Meal selections vary to meet most dietary restrictions.

For more information, contact Tenille Johnson, intake coordinator/case manager, at 404-351-3889 ext. 303

Source: Meals on Wheels Atlanta