A few weeks ago, national Meals on Wheels president Ellie Hollander said, a volunteer in Texas delivered food to a senior citizen on a Friday, then returned the following Monday to find the client lying helplessly on the floor with a fractured hip, unable to get up.

“Unfortunately, this is not uncommon,” said Hollander, who spoke Monday morning in Santa Monica during her organization’s March for Meals campaign.

“The nutrition is the entry into the home. But what really makes a difference is the companionship, the friendly visit. … (The seniors) might not see anyone else in their day besides that volunteer or staff member. So it’s also a safety check, a wellness check — eyes and ears inside the home.”

The nonprofit group’s 13th annual March for Meals initiative comes at a time of substantial growth for Meals on Wheels West, which serves Los Angeles County’s coastal communities from its headquarters on Michigan Avenue in Santa Monica.

The local branch delivered more than 39,744 meals to clients over the last six months of 2014, a 32-percent increase over the same six-month period in 2013.

And Meals on Wheels West is still finding new ways to reach out to those in need.

Last year it launched Heal Healthy at Home, a program that provides meals to people who have recently been discharged from hospitals.

The initiative is predicated on partnerships with UCLA Santa Monica Medical Center, Saint John’s Health Center, Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Medical Center and Marina Del Rey Hospital as well as the Venice Family Clinic and the VA West Los Angeles Medical Center.

“It really targets a different audience,” chapter director Chris Baca said.

Meals on Wheels West is also planning to expand its coverage area south towards Venice and Marina del Rey, from Lincoln Boulevard to the beach. The additional territory could be served as early as mid-April, according to Baca.

The planned growth underscored Baca’s appreciation of the roughly 400 volunteers who deliver food for Meals on Wheels West. They’re part of a network of 2 million volunteers that serves 2.5 million clients across the country, Hollander said.

“Some people deliver once a year, some once a month, once a week or more often,” Baca said. “They’re the heart and soul of this organization.”

Although people don’t often associate communities like Santa Monica, Malibu and Pacific Palisades with hunger, Baca said, there is a consistent need among people who are unemployed, retired, homebound and disabled.

Meals on Wheels officials argue that their efforts have an economic advantage, saying their deliveries reduce food insecurity and curb health care costs among senior citizens.

“It keeps people out of emergency rooms, hospitals and long-term institutions,” Hollander said. “They’re able to stay in their own homes. We can create healthier communities by enabling seniors to stay in their own homes.”

For more information about Meals on Wheels West, call (310) 394-5133 or visit www.mealsonwheelswest.org.

Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, jeff@www.smdp.com or on Twitter.

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