Today, millions of seniors across the country are food insecure. In fact, one in six seniors struggle with hunger. Advances in medicine have led to people living longer lives, but it also means that many people have to deal with the reduction of mobility that often comes with aging. Add that to the increased mobility of many families moving away and it leads to millions of seniors who are left behind, hungry and alone. That’s where Joe Young comes in.
Young is a retired professional who worked for Bellsouth for more than 30 years. But Young isn’t one to sit around when there is need in his community, so he has a new job now – at Meals on Wheels. Five days a week Young drives to Cooper Green Mercy Hospital in Birmingham and fills his van full of food. From there, he delivers the meals along various routes to senior centers and other pick-up locations around the Birmingham and beyond. From there, volunteers pick up the meals and deliver them to seniors who might otherwise go without.
2016 is the 50th anniversary of the national Meals on Wheels program. From its humble beginnings in Philadelphia, the program now provides meals for nearly 2.4 million seniors each year. The Jefferson County Meals on Wheels program began in 1976, serving just five homebound seniors at the time. Today, the program delivers over 700 meals a day to seniors in need. In 2015, the program served more than 250,000 meals to homebound seniors in the county.
Each day around 743 meals are delivered to homebound seniors, thanks to Young and the other Meals on Wheels employees as well as around 450 generous volunteers who donate their time to deliver meals.
The needs of America’s seniors will only continue to grow. The number of Americans ages 65 and older is predicted to double by 2050 to around 112 million, compared to around 57 million in 2010. Meals on Wheels seeks to continue to serve this growing population and prevent independent seniors from having to prematurely trade their homes for nursing facilities.
Young originally got his start at Meals on Wheels as one such volunteer through his church. After a while, he asked his supervisors if there were any positions open for full-time employees.
“Once I got involved with it, it became a humbling experience for me,” Young said. “Just to go out to the number of people that we serve and to see the gratifying expression on their faces when we show up. In many instances it may be the only meal that some people get all day.”
But a warm meal isn’t the only thing that Young and the other drivers bring to each stop. Some of the seniors Young visits have trouble getting around their own homes. For them, Young is more than happy to help out in small but meaningful ways when he stops by, such as fetching their walker. Others simply want to have a few minutes’ conversation, because aside from the fact that those meals might be the only ones they get that day, Young might also be the only human contact they have.
United Way assumed responsibilities for the Jefferson County Meals on Wheels program when it was learned that the long time contractor was closing its doors back in March. Following the successful management of the program, United Way was awarded the contract not only for Meals on Wheels but the Area Agency on Agency senior program. Both programs are now proud initiatives of United Way.
“I would like people to know that the Meals on Wheels along with United Way are providing a very essential service to a lot of people,” Young said.
Meals on Wheels is always looking for more volunteers to help deliver hot noontime meals to homebound seniors throughout Jefferson County as well as to assist in general office duties. If you’d like to find out more about the program and how you can help, e-mail Volunteer@MealsonWheels-JeffCo.org