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Gov. Roy Cooper and his wife, First Lady Kristin Cooper, delivered the official six-millionth Meals-On-Wheels dinner to Rosalie Young, 91, in the Druid Hills neighborhood of Winston-Salem on Sept. 20, 2017.

As you drive through your neighborhood, I bet you wouldn’t guess that in some of the houses you pass lives an elderly citizen, struggling to prepare meals and to age with dignity.

In one of the houses, someone needs a little company. In another, someone needs a nice, warm meal.

Our senior population is growing quickly. One in 5 Americans is 60 or older, with 12,000 more turning that age each day. As these seniors age, many may begin to struggle physically or run into a financial hardship, which is difficult for them and their families. Thankfully, millions of volunteers help these seniors, providing them with the tools they need to stay independent longer and being their biggest supporters.

Meals-on-Wheels is a nonprofit organization dedicated to giving nutritious meals to homebound seniors who are unable to obtain meals themselves. They also work to fight isolation, which is common in many elderly citizens living at home. Meals-on-Wheels provides food for these seniors through three nutrition programs: groceries, hot meals and frozen meals, which are put together with senior nutrition needs in mind. These nutrition programs ensure that hungry seniors are fed across Forsyth County and throughout the nation.

“If someone cannot be on a hot meal delivery route for any reason, they may still be eligible for frozen meal pickup every other week, so that they still have access to meals,” says Laura Garland, the volunteer resources manager at Senior Services Inc., which operates Meals-on-Wheels in Forsyth County. The local food calendar this spring includes baked ham and stroganoff with noodles, among other main and side dishes. In order to receive this service, homebound elderly ages 60 and older apply to the program and soon become participants who receive these hot meals.

Just like anybody, seniors need more than food to stay empowered and independent; we all need some social time, as well as important inspections to keep our living spaces safe. The delivery volunteers, who come to the doors and deliver meals to seniors, are a huge part of the organization and are responsible for the holistic care of each and every recipient. The word “community” is one of the important building blocks on which Meals-on-Wheels is based — as a community, volunteers support their senior citizens through the program, and it also helps build a stronger community between those who participate and the elderly they serve.

There are 71 routes throughout Forsyth County along which food is delivered, which exceeds 1,200 meals a day — and that number is always growing. Even though the organization helps a huge number of seniors, every person is individually cared for and served. Close relationships are built between participants and volunteers, and these human connections and relationships are just as important to enriching the lives of seniors as the meals that are delivered.

Meals-on-Wheels is very flexible with volunteer times — you can deliver as much as your schedule allows, once a week, or even once a month — no matter what, the process gives back more than expected.

“I am always struck by how mutually enriching it is to deliver to the seniors we serve. Engaging with them is just as rewarding for those delivering as those receiving,” says Garland. “Being a part of this work, whether directly or behind-the-scenes, is very special and something I value greatly.”

Volunteering isn’t the only way to help — donations are crucial to funding the meals that get delivered and other necessities for the seniors.

The organization has been very successful, and in late 2017, Meals-on-Wheels delivered its six-millionth meal to a hungry senior in Forsyth County. Each day it is coming closer to its seven-millionth meal!

Across the country, millions of volunteers ensure that 2.4 million elderly receive meals each weekday — 225 million meals each year. Not only is it effective; it’s cheaper, too. One senior can be served by Meals-on-Wheels for an entire year for the same cost as one day in the hospital or 10 days in a nursing home.

Many of our senior citizens are stuck at home, isolated and hungry. Everyone deserves to age independently and gracefully, with holistic care and important attention. We can help all struggling seniors, one meal and one friendly smile at a time.

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Virginia Dickson is an eighth-grader at the Arts-Based School of Winston-Salem.

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