AARP Eye Center
We all know AARP as the nationwide organization whose mission is to “empower people to choose how they live as they age.” But some may ask, “So, what does that mean for me? How does AARP’s mission impact my life--where I live?”
The new series of virtual offerings called Lynchburg Serves that made its debut on Tuesday, March 15, 2022, serves—pun intended—to answer that question. The first of the monthly series hosted by AARP Virginia that will have nine installments focused on the Meals on Wheels program of the Greater Lynchburg, Virginia area. Lynchburg is one of four AARP focus communities in Virginia along with Virginia Beach, Richmond and Prince William County.
An early poll in the session revealed that all those in attendance that afternoon had some familiarity with a Meals on Wheels program. Kris Shabestar, Executive Director of the program since 2011, pointed out that every Meals on Wheels organization runs independently and operates differently because they are community based.
After sharing a video of the Meals on Wheels Program in Lynchburg, she traced its beginnings back to 1940 when during the Blitz in the United Kingdom, food deliveries were begun to those in need. The first food deliveries in the United States were begun in Philadelphia in 1954. The program in the Greater Lynchburg area was begun in 1974 and is approaching its 50th anniversary.
Because Meals on Wheels in Lynchburg does not accept any government funding, they are free to serve anyone in need regardless of age. The impact of poor nutrition has both broad and deep consequences. People who are food insecure have decreased functionality, up to 14 years older, meaning that a seventy-year-old who is poorly nourished may be functioning at the level of someone age 84. A third of those who enter the hospital are malnourished and stay up to three times longer than the general population when hospitalized. The cost of feeding someone for a year is less than the cost of spending one day in the hospital.
Meals on Wheels provides so much more than its nutritional benefits; it provides connections. One in three older adults live alone and as many as half of those 85 and older do. Isolation has increased exponentially in the past two years and loneliness is known to have a physiological impact on the human body affecting the production of white blood cells that impairs the body’s immune systems that help fight off infection. The personal connection provided by the food delivery is invaluable.
The daily delivery provides not only for friendly visits but allows for safety checks. Seasonally volunteers deliver poinsettias and holiday gifts. Recipients of the service and its accompanying benefits have confided that the visits make them feel safer, healthier, and truly cared for.
Becky Tweedy, Communications Director for the program, indicated that people of all age groups and all incomes may be eligible for service if they meet the criteria. They must live in the service area—the City of Lynchburg and parts of its surrounding counties. They have an illness or disability either long term or short term that causes them to be homebound; or they cannot prepare appropriate meals for themselves and do not have anyone who can.
In 2021 they delivered an average of nearly 11,000 meals a month or just shy of 130,000 for the year. That was up from 85,000 meals delivered in 2019—a tremendous increase!
By now you may be shouting, “WHAT CAN I DO?” Shabestar asks that you consider three things—Volunteer, Donate, Connect.
Volunteer--Meals on Wheels is in constant need of help from volunteers. One can volunteer as many or as few times per month as their time permits. Their goal is to make your volunteer experience the “best in town”—one that is safe, timely and efficient. You may volunteer individually or as a team of two, or perhaps as part of a larger team from your church, civic organization, or business. You may have a regular route, make special deliveries or substitute for another volunteer. To make it easy, you can volunteer here.
Donate--Depending on non-government funding she asks for donations if you are able. Any amount is welcome but for a source of reference, five dollars covers one meal. One person can be served for a month for $110.00 and can be served for a year for $1,300.
Connect--Reach out to those friends, neighbors and family who are more isolated than you are. Advocate for the program and those in need. Your advocacy can be lifesaving.
There are lots of needs and many ways to serve. AARP encourages members and all others to stay healthy, stay active and to serve others. Our motto is “to serve not to be served.”
Over the next several months, AARP Virginia will provide other sessions focusing on other groups in the Lynchburg Serves series. Next month, we will be interviewing the representatives of the Central Virginia Alliance for Community Living. Be sure to register for the next session by clicking here.