Meals on Wheels West (MOWW) celebrated their Annual Community Champions Day this week and the event provided a stark contrast between local support for the organization and threats posed by the federal government.
The event brought together local elected officials like Mayor Ted Winterer, and City of Malibu Mayor, Lou LaMonte. Many corporate partners attended the event to help raise awareness around seniors and veterans who face food insecurity. However, what should have been a celebratory affair was damped by the recent unveiling of President Trump’s budget and significant cuts to MOW funding.
“Today is a beautiful day, but we are facing a storm right now that is coming from Washington,” said Meals on Wheels West Executive Director, Chris Baca. “We have been really lucky here in Santa Monica, in that, the response in the community has been amazing.”
Last Thursday the President sent his Budget Blueprint to Congress, and since then MOW has become the poster child for the President’s focus on cutting non-defense programs to fund the military. Federal officials have questioned the program’s results but the national organization has said its services are vital to seniors.
A Brown University study commissioned by Meals on Wheels America, found 87% of seniors needing Meals On Wheels are physically unable to shop for groceries compared to 23% of average seniors. With the program running strong, for now, many of those seniors are able to receive meals.
“In the last three years we have seen growth of more than 50% in the number of clients and meals we deliver,” said Baca. “Our funding streams have been unable to meet this growing demand and now, with the threat of losing government funding, we need help even more to continue to serve meals to those in need.”
The Federal funding for MOW comes from several federal sources that are threatened in the new budget.
The President’s budget cuts hundreds of millions of dollars from the Department of Health and Human Services and outright eliminates funding for the Older Americans Act overseen by HHS. The budget also eliminates a grant program from the Department of Housing and Urban Development that helped fund MOW programs.
Nationally, MOW receives about 35 percent of its funding from the Older Americans Act. Across the country, MOW works with more than 5,000 local programs to provide more than 2.4 million meals each year. Veterans account for more than 500,000 of their clients.
“With the Federal Budget proposing a 17.9% cut to the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) budget, it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which Meals on Wheels critical services would not be significantly and negatively impacted,” said Baca. “Currently 139 or 30% of MOW West’s clients receive federal funding from the HSS/Older American’s Act and other federal programs. The federal funding covers 30% of the cost of the meals we provide.”
For many of the clients, MOW is their only source of food and the most reliable way to sustain social interaction.
Last year MOWW delivered 93,048 meals locally, with the help of more than 1,000 volunteers. MOWW will deliver 100,000 meals in Santa Monica, Venice, Marina Del Rey, Pacific Palisades and Malibu this year.
Due to the strong possibility that funds can be cut, local supporters are contributing now more than ever. Local veterans have stepped up to help fill the financial gap. American Legion Post 283 saw how much work and effort MOWW was putting in. They decided to donate more than $20,000 to help feed the hungry, including other veterans.
“This is important. The veterans that are coming back today are fight a much different war then we fought. These guys and women are coming back suffering from PTSD and other anxiety issues that prevent them from going to the store,” said Commander, American Legion Post 283, Jere Romano. “Meals on Wheels is providing human contact for people who are locked in.”
Officials said the reality is that MOW needs financial support from local organizations and individuals. Every dollar helps them provide healthy meals along with a daily wellness check.
“The response by the local communities have been amazing, along with all the media coverage MOW has been receiving,” said Baca. “We really appreciate the support we have from individuals, and corporations and everyone at large. What we need to remember is the need is growing.”
To help support MOWW you can visit www.mealsonwheelswest.org
The Associated Press contributed to this report.