Meals on Wheels: My grandparents (and science) understand the importance for this program

My grandparents - my mémère and pépère - delivered Meals on Wheels to senior citizens for years. I once asked Pépère to explain Meals on Wheels to me. He said that he was visiting seniors. Saying hello, bringing them food, and making sure they didn't need anything else.  

"It's hard to get old," he told me. He said that the food was important to these people, but the smile and the hello was just as important. 

As you may have heard, Donald Trump's proposed budget cuts funding to Meals on Wheels, which feeds 2.4 millions seniors every year, including 500,000 veterans.  

Here's the good news:

  • Meals on Wheels receives most of its funding from corporate and private sources, so even if these cuts were to happen, Meals on Wheels would continue to exist. 
  • Presidential budgets are wish lists that are often "dead on arrival" to Capitol Hill. Given the scope of the proposed cuts, the opposition within his own party to many cuts, and his recent string of losses, this budget is especially "dead on arrival."
  • While Donald Trump may see this program as a waste of money, it is unlikely that Congress will cut its funding given the infinitesimal percentage of the budget that it requires.    

The most offensive aspect of Trump's proposed cut to Meals on Wheels is the accusation that the program is "just not showing any results.” 

If you want to argue that the money could be better spent, fine.

If you want to argue that more seniors could be helped if the money was shifted to a different program, great.

But lying about the ineffectiveness of a program that by all accounts makes an enormous difference in the lives of seniors is a disgusting and cowardly act. 

Research reported in the New York Times includes:

In 2014, researchers explored the evidence on whether home-delivered meal programs improved the diet and nutrition of older Americans. They found eight studies, two of which were randomized controlled trials. Six of the eight showed that programs like Meals on Wheels improve the quality of people’s diet, increase their nutrient intake, and reduce their food insecurity and nutritional risk. They also noted that the programs increased chances for human contact and improved quality of life.

It’s important to recognize that the program’s benefits are not merely nutritional. A 2016 study showed that participants in the Meals on Wheels program had lower loneliness scores. A 2013 study showed that spending on services like Meals on Wheels was associated with less reliance on institutionalized care, because more people could live independently at home. They may even have fewer falls at home and less worry about being able to remain there.

It’s important to recognize that the program’s benefits are not merely nutritional. A 2016 study showed that participants in the Meals on Wheels program had lower loneliness scores. A 2013 study showed that spending on services like Meals on Wheels was associated with less reliance on institutionalized care, because more people could live independently at home. They may even have fewer falls at home and less worry about being able to remain there.

Researchers conducted economic analyses in 2013 and showed that if all states had increased the number of older Americans who had received Meals on Wheels by just 1 percent, the states would have saved Medicaid more than $109 million. Most of those savings would have come from reductions in the need for nursing home care.

If my Pépère were alive today, he probably could've told Trump most of this without needing to spend a dime on research. He volunteered his time to help these senior citizens in need of help. He understood the importance of the program. He knew the people whose lives were substantially improved by this program.

As a person who has experienced food insecurity and hunger in my life, you can't underestimate the value of a dependable meal every day. 

Donald Trump grew up in a wealthy home and was given a multi-million dollar handout at the start of his career. He hasn't been hungry a day in his life.  

In the absence of my grandfather's advice, Donald Trump could follow this simple rule:

When you can afford to spend more than three million dollars of taxpayer money nearly every weekend in order to play golf in Florida (and then lie about playing golf despite photographic evidence proving otherwise), you can afford to continue to feed impoverished senior citizens and veterans who depend on this program for their daily nutrition.  

My aunts and uncles were once young and strong and infinite. This is how I try to remember them even when the shadows of my ongoing existential crisis creep in.

I’ve been thinking about my grandparents a lot lately. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the families that they raised and what life must’ve been like back then. In the not-so-old days.

I have an interesting family dynamic:

My mother married my father.
My mother’s brother married my father’s sister.

Two families more closely intertwined by marriage than most. And large families, too. 

My father was one of seven children.
My mother was one of six.

Until my mother and father divorced when I was about eight years-old, Dad lived in my childhood home, next door to his father, my grandfather. Dad’s grandfather (my great grandfather) and his uncle (my  great uncle) lived there as well. For much of his life, his brother (my Uncle Neil) lived there, too. 

Two  houses down from our home lived my father’s brother, Harold, and his wife, Cathy. Half a mile down the road lived my father’s youngest sister, Sheila, and her husband, Tim. Across the street from our house and across the street from my grandfather’s house were the homes of my uncle’s wife’s family.

Our street was a bit of a family compound.

The rest of the family, on both my mother’s and my father’s side, lived nearby. Both sets of grandparents lived in my hometown, as did most of the uncles and aunts. Until my mother’s sister, my Aunt Paulette, moved to South Carolina when I was young, every aunt and uncle with the exception of one lived within fifteen minutes of my home.

Today, the families are much smaller.

All of my grandparents are dead.
My mother and her older sister are dead.
Two of my father’s brothers and one of his sisters are dead.

Thirteen children amongst the two families now reduced to eight.

But I like to think back to a time, prior to 1978, when things were different. My father’s mother had died a few years earlier, but otherwise, the family was complete. It was a time when all thirteen of these children were alive and well. Some were married and some were single, but none had been divorced yet. The families were intact. For a tiny sliver of time, things were as they should be. There were no shadows at the family picnics.

My Aunt Carol, my mother’s oldest sister, passed away first, following her husband, my Uncle Norman, who died a little less than decade earlier.

My parents divorced. My father left the house and farm that stood in the shadow of his childhood home. He went from living next door to his father to living alone in an apartment behind a liquor store.


Then my Aunt Sheila died tragically in a doctor’s office while receiving an allergy shot. She was still in her twenties and the mother of three.

My Uncle Neil died years later, followed by my Uncle Harold just recently. More divorces along the way. More families chopped in half. Reconstituted. Chopped again.

But I like to think about my grandparents and pre-1978: a time when all of their children were alive and well. When their marriages were intact and futures were bright. When death had not yet begun to cast its shadow across the landscape of the family and whittle it down, piece by piece.

It must have been a lovely time for my grandparents. A lovely moment, really. A few years in the sun before things began to crack.

It must be hard to watch a family fracture. Separate. Shrink.

A not-so-long time ago, thirteen children who would one day become my aunts and uncles lived in the tiny town of Blackstone, MA. They ran and played and laughed and grew. They found work. They fell in love. The sun was warm on their backs and the grass was soft underfoot.

I like to think about them like this. Young and strong and infinite. 

Now there are shadows where loved ones once stood. Aging bodies and broken hearts and lost love. Someday thirteen will become zero, and those once glorious and indestructible children will be no more.

One hundred years from now, they will be all but forgotten. Names occasionally uttered in discussions of family trees. Mentioned in soon-to-be-forgotten family stories. Etched into tombstones no longer visited.  

I would – if I could – reach back into time and tell those thirteen children, spread amongst two families, to hold onto their youth with every ounce of strength that they have. Cherish it. Grab onto one another and hold tight.

And I would tell them to run. Run fast and hard and with reckless abandon through fields and streets and wood  because some day running will be a thing of the past. I would urge them to run from those shadows that are looming closer each day and remember their time in the sun, because it is all too fleeting, and someday, thirteen will become none.

Grandparents kicking millennials’ asses

I have recently learned that identifying oneself as a “grandma” is a growing phenomenon among twentysomethings who refuse to leave their apartments over the weekend and are adopting a binge-watching, sedentary lifestyle. Apparently many millennials take are taking pride in calling themselves old people trapped in young people’s bodies.

A far cry from The Greatest Generation.

As annoyed as I am about this recent trend, I’m thrilled over the reaction of the elderly, who apparently want nothing to do with these uninspired, sloth-like beings.


A piece in The New Yorker entitled Grandmas Ride Up Against Millennials’ Grandma Lifestyle is full of quotes from bad-ass old people who sound ready to kick these millennials in the ass.

I’ll be saving these quotes for future use as a life coach.

Many senior citizens argue that being associated with millennials is detrimental to the credibility they’ve been cultivating for, quite literally, decades.

Early yesterday, seniors across the country staged protests in their retirement communities, calling this trend downright offensive.

Grandparents are speaking out, disavowing any affiliation with the millennials who take daylong naps punctuated by brief scrolls through Twitter.

“It’s insulting. Today, I went to my water-aerobics class, played bridge for three hours, made progress on a Sudoku puzzle that has been stumping me for months, and tried a new recipe. Who has time to sit around like those kids, watching the Netflix all day?”

“When my lover Hal left me for my canasta partner, I got myself a new canasta partner. I sure as heck didn’t stay inside and drink three bottles of Pinot Grigio by myself!”

“He was wearing a raggedy maroon cardigan, a bowtie, suspenders, and pants that suggested that he didn’t really understand the purpose of suspenders. I didn’t have the heart to tell my darling granddaughter that her boyfriend looked like a bankrupt magician.”

“Knitting is a means to an end not an act of frivolity. It’s what puts Christmas presents under the tree and keeps my grandsons warm during the winter. What these young things don’t realize is that it does irreparable damage to your fingers.”