Jim Arkfeld: Meals on Wheels program crashes in Merced County

August 22, 2014 

The United States has the will and resources to help solve problems all over the world. For example, in recent days we are providing water and food to minority groups in Iraq fleeing ruthless Isis insurgents. At the same time, we seem to have difficulty taking care of our own citizens just down the street.

The Meals on Wheels program here in Merced County has crashed. The engine fueling the program is sputtering.

The Merced County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to overhaul the program due to budget constraints. In spite of the recovering economy and an increase in tax revenue in California, the board is eviscerating the program. Instead of delivering hot meals to housebound elderly residents five days a week, the new program will deliver five frozen dinners once a week. Those receiving the meals will be on their own.

Many of the elderly currently in the program are wheelchair bound. Others have some health concerns that limit their mobility or ability to prepare their own meals, even with a microwave oven. Some lack the cognitive skills or motivation to prepare meals to get the vital nutrition that they need.

The Meals on Wheels program is much more than the delivery of hot meals to the elderly, often handicapped residents. The program has a very important human element. The person doing the delivery was able to do a quick check on the general health and well-being of the recipient. In many cases the delivery person was invited in for a brief but important bit of human interaction. For many of these shut-ins, this brief encounter was the only human contact of the day or, perhaps, in many weeks.

Where the frozen food delivery program already exists, one study shows that fewer than half of the delivered meals are consumed. Supervisors speak of a substituting a new volunteer program to check on the well-being of the people who will be receiving the frozen meals. A program involving a phone call or knock at the door inquiring about a person’s well-being will take on an artificial tone much unlike the current personalized delivery program. It will be very impersonal. We’ll have to wait and see how that works out.

Now in Merced County, in the heart of the nation’s great food growing region, we will no longer deliver compassion. We will no longer deliver care and concern. We will now make a routine delivery once a week of frozen blocks of food. The vulnerable, elderly homebound will have to fend for themselves.

Humanity in Merced County is taking a step backwards. In my opinion, it’s a very sad day.

Jim Arkfeld of Los Banos is a retired educator.

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