essays on suffering and awakening

Meals on Wheels is us at our best

It has been reported that the proposed federal budget for next year eliminates federal funding for the Community Development Block Grant program. This program helps pay for Meals on Wheels, as well as other efforts aimed at making life better for people in need. Even in the midst of a wave of policies from the new administration that hurt a lot of people, this stands out as particularly cruel. 

Meals on Wheels brings food to people who can't prepare it themselves, because of illness, disability or advanced age. It's a humble, wonderful organization that doesn’t do much to advertise itself. 

I know: I volunteered with them several days a week when I first moved to LA. I was living in a sober house, and the staff told me I had to find something to do with myself. I chose Meals on Wheels because the work was simple and I could take the bus there.

Here’s how it worked: a group of us would gather at the local office, and split into pairs. Each pair would drive a specific route, dropping off lunch and dinner to our clients who lived along the way. They were all homebound and many were almost as excited to have a visitor as they were to be receiving food. Those who could afford it paid a small sum for their meals, but no one was left out. 

We delivered to people living in roach motels and in elegant apartment buildings and bungalows in the hills. Our clients came from many different backgrounds. Old age and disability do not discriminate, after all. Some of the clients wanted to talk for a while, others just took their bundled styrofoam trays and said thank you. 

One old woman lived in an apartment overflowing with junk and garbage and rotting food. We would hold our noses and take out a few bags of trash, and she would never fail to greet us and smile. We couldn’t fix anything for her, but we could make sure she had something to eat and someone to acknowledge that she was here and alive. 

Like our clients, the people who volunteered to make deliveries were a cross section of humanity: stay at home moms, retired people, busy professionals, people like me who just needed something to do, even a few faces you might recognize from television or the movies. I made friends that I looked forward to seeing every week. There was a camaraderie that comes naturally from working together in the service of common kindness and decency.

What's more important, after all, than feeding people?

Many of folks who benefit from Meals on Wheels are almost invisible to society as a whole. They usually live alone, and you won’t see them bustling about town going to work or running errands. They're easy to forget about, but they need to be remembered because they need the same necessities the rest of us do: love, acceptance and basic practicalities of food and housing.

Meals on Wheels helps give them that. 

We weren’t feeding them as an investment. Our clients were not going to go invent the next iPhone (probably). We were feeding them because they are our brothers and sisters and we have enough to share and they deserve it by the simple virtue of existing. 

Meals on Wheels is us at our very best: offering our time and money to help our fellows in their hour of need. Many of us talk about helping others: Meals on Wheels puts that talk into action, quietly and powerfully and every day. We should all stand up for it. 

Ian Cooper