by Photo by Sarah Berjan

Meals on Wheels of San Diego County thanked its South County volunteers in the 48th annual appreciation event, and for the second year in a row, it was held in drive-through fashion due to COVID-19. 

At least 120 volunteers, who deliver meals to home-bound seniors on a daily basis, we're treated to a free lunch from Phil's BBQ and cookies, all provided by members of the nonprofit's South County Volunteer Advisory Committee. This year’s theme was “We Need S’more Volunteers Like You” to acknowledge volunteers, as well as recognize the need for additional community support.

“Volunteers do it out of the goodness of their heart. They're not getting paid, and this is the way that we have to show our appreciation for it. We say we deliver hot meals and warm smiles, but they're the ones that are bringing the warm smile, and they brighten the day of the seniors. We call volunteers isolation interrupters,” said Brent Wakefield, president, and CEO, Meals on Wheels San Diego County.

According to Wakefield, the nonprofit saw a 50 percent increase in demand for services during the pandemic, and about 70 percent of volunteers are seniors themselves.

“It's a reason for them to get up in the morning and have an impact in the community. But, it's also a way for them to actually be part of the solution to one of the issues that we have in our community,” Wakefield said. 

The COVID-19 pandemic left many older adults cut off from their family and support networks, making them vulnerable to the negative health effects of isolation. According to the nonprofit, one in 10 seniors in San Diego experience hunger, and nearly half of San Diego County seniors live alone. 

“We're more than a meal because we don't only just deliver the meal, we do safety checks if someone doesn't answer the door of the phone for delivery. We have emergency contacts that we can contact to make sure they're okay. All of our clients get a gift on their birthday. Everyone gets a gift at Christmas time, and we even deliver pet food once a week for anyone who has a cat or dog,” said South County Service Center Director Chequita Falls. 

According to the AARP, more than eight million older adults are affected by isolation, and the physical health risks are detrimental. Researchers have found that loneliness is just as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Studies have even suggested a link between isolation and increased risk of Alzheimer’s. 

“Volunteers really know how critical their work is, and I think the client appreciates it. They get to see a face and interact with somebody at least once a day, and sometimes that's the only person they see,” Wakefield said.

Recent figures from the federal government show that up to 16 percent of Americans older than 65, and even more of those in hospitals or other institutions, are at high risk for malnutrition. 

Today, Meals on Wheels San Diego County delivers 50,000 meals per month and serves upwards of nearly 1,300 clients per day at its busiest. With the increased demand, the nonprofit seeks volunteers to further support isolated seniors. 

There are about 300 Meals on Wheels volunteers in South County, and about 2,660 throughout the county. The nonprofit is looking for about 300 more to expand its routes and serve seniors in need. 

Members of the public who would like to volunteer for Meals on Wheels may click here for more information. 

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