When the homebound seniors on Stephen Welch's meal delivery route open their doors to him on
Welch, a volunteer with the
"If you spend some time with them and show them you are truly concerned, it really does more for them than the food does," says Welch, a volunteer driver for about two years. "It gives them hope and a reason to feel good. I've left some houses with tears in my eyes."
This year, the
PAA, a private nonprofit established in 1974, serves about 4,000 seniors a year in
Home Delivered Meals targets people 60 and older who are homebound due to a physical or mental illness or disability. Often unable to prepare meals, they might at most make a sandwich or open up a can of soup for their holiday meal, says William Massey, PAA's Chief Executive Officer.
"We want to make sure they have something more appropriate and nutritious," Massey says. "It's about much more than food, though. It sends a message of caring that's really important to their well-being."
On Thanksgiving and Christmas, volunteers generally make holiday meal deliveries around noon. Many volunteers also bring along small gifts at Christmas and stay to talk for a while. The seniors on Welch's list include amputees and people who are bedridden, struggling with a mental illness or very elderly.
"They are very happy and receptive with me," Welch says. "Some of these people are just completely by themselves, and it feels really good to be able to spend time with them. I get so much out of it, too."
Public funds from federal, state and local governments cover part of the cost of year-round meal deliveries, with contributions from recipients and individual and group donations making up the rest. According to a PAA survey done earlier this year, 73 percent of recipients say the meals give them the ability to keep living at home, while 99 percent report that the food helps them maintain proper nutrition. For 38 percent, the delivery is their only hot meal of the day.
With a shaky economy and an aging population, demand is growing for all of the agency's services.
While people 65 and older represented 12 percent of the nation's population in 2000, they are expected to make up 19 percent by 2030, according to the federal Department of Health & Human Services. More people also are living well into their 80s and 90s, but many face serious health concerns.
"They are going to need our care and attention, and they deserve it," Massey says. "They shouldn't be forgotten."
Alison Johnson is a freelance writer based in York County.
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