Tag Archives: meals on wheels

Think Globally, Act Locally

“These are unprecedented times…” is probably the beginning of every email that you’ve written, received, or been forwarded over the course of the last month. While our lives have surely been changed, our day-to-day schedule in quarantine largely looks, well, pretty precedented. If you’re anything like me or my family, you’ve probably tried your hand at the internet’s favorite Dalgona coffee, baked banana bread out of boredom, or co-starred in your younger family members’ TikToks (reader, please explain to me why I’m now obsessed with the Skechers song!). In the world of social distancing, we often believe that we are at a loss to do anything other than propping ourselves up with these mundane pleasures. After all, many of us aren’t epidemiology researchers, state legislators, or doctors (as much as my parents would have hoped differently). But the truth is, there’s more we can do to help our community than we might currently think. 

The Indian-American community is one of the most successful ethnic minorities in America, with the highest average income of minority groups in this country. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is receiving praise for his commitment to donate $1 billion (28% of his net worth) to the COVID-19 crisis, but leaders in the Indian-American community have not pledged nearly the same. Several Indian-led nonprofits have stepped in to help in ways they can. Our community has seen over 40 deaths in America. While saddening, these figures pale in comparison to the health disparities in black and LatinX communities, which shows that we have more of an obligation than ever to contribute. There’s a variety of ways for people to get involved in local efforts, donations, and advocacy, and it’s important to keep these opportunities on our radar as we brace for several more weeks of isolation. 

Donating Time:

While not everyone can be in a place to be able to financially support local charity work, there’s plenty that can contribute with their time. In today’s climate, vulnerable populations often see their challenges exacerbated, with social-isolation, medical bills, and job losses plaguing our country. Victims of domestic violence are quarantined with their abusers, high-risk senior citizens are spending days alone, and the impact on migrant and refugee communities is terrifying. For many of the non-profits seeking to provide resources to these communities, what they need most is an increase in volunteers to reflect their increased needs at this time. Here are a few ways you might be able to get involved: 

  • You can help with contactless driving for Meals on Wheels, a nonprofit that helps provide food and check-ins for senior citizens. 
  • You can get trained to be a domestic violence crisis counselor from your couch  
  • You can even be a decoder for Amnesty International
  • Got extra cloth? Help sew masks for your local health professionals. 
  • Looking for a more comprehensive list of volunteer opportunities? Look no further.
Madhavi Prabha sewing masks for local hospitals.

Donating Money

While some of us might be able to donate extra hours, if someone’s quarantine-buddies are immunocompromised, or if the hectic pace of our lives has not calmed down, donating money might be an easier avenue for them. Mutual Aid collectives, which organize under the philosophy of “solidarity, not charity,” help mobilize a community’s financial resources for those who are in need. Mutual aid groups have been used in several universities and municipalities, and this locator helps a user see the aid efforts nearest to them. There are several well-known non-profits and locators that families can use to donate to at this time:

Think Globally, Act Locally

While the saying might be trite, the most impact that we can make is within our own communities. Whether it’s buying gift cards to your favorite small businesses, dropping off groceries for a neighbor, or caring for the children of medical professionals, there’s a lot we can do by simply keeping ourselves aware. You can subscribe to the email list-servs of your local political representatives, who often can provide constituents with information about neighborhood efforts. Charity navigator is also a great resource that can help you identify what organizations are doing great work in your community. If you’re from the Bay Area, Silicon Valley strong is a wonderful place to start with your efforts. The possibilities are endless, and the genuine good in the hearts of everyday people is incredible. If there’s a silver lining to all of this, it’s this: we are stronger together.

Swathi is a junior at Duke University studying Public Policy and Computer Science. She hopes to continue to learn through the lens of her Indian-American heritage.

Seniors Facing More than the Coronavirus Threat!

Close down group meals for seniors. Cancel social gatherings.

The directive, from the Illinois Department on Aging, sent shock waves through senior service organizations late last week.

Overnight, Area Agencies on Aging had to figure out how to help people in their homes instead of at sites where they mingle and get various types of assistance.

This is the new reality as the COVID-19 virus barrels into communities across America. Older adults — the demographic group most at risk of dying if they become ill ― are being warned against going out and risking contagion. And programs that serve this population are struggling to ensure that seniors who live in the community, especially those who are sick and frail, aren’t neglected.

This vulnerable population far outstrips a group that has received more attention: older adults in nursing homes. In the U.S., only 1.4 million seniors reside in these institutions; by contrast, about 47 million older adults are aging in place. An additional 812,000 seniors make their homes at assisted living facilities.

While some of these seniors are relatively healthy, a significant portion of them are not. Outside of nursing homes, 15% of America’s 65-and-older population (more than 7 million seniors) is frail, a condition that greatly reduces their ability to cope with even minor medical setbacks. Sixty percent have at least two chronic conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease or diabetes, that raise the chance that the coronavirus could kill them.

But the virus is far from the only threat older adults face. The specter of hunger and malnutrition looms, as sites serving group meals shut down and seniors are unable or afraid to go out and shop for groceries. An estimated 5.5 million older adults were considered “food insecure” — without consistent access to sufficient healthy food ― even before this crisis.

As the health care system becomes preoccupied with the new coronavirus, non-urgent doctors’ visits are being canceled. Older adults who otherwise might have had chronic illness checkups may now deteriorate at home, unnoticed. If they don’t go out, their mobility could become compromised — a risk for decline.

Furthermore, if older adults stop seeing people regularly, isolation and loneliness could set in, generating stress and undermining their ability to cope. And if paid companions and home health aides become ill, quarantined or unable to work because they need to care for children whose schools have closed, older adults could be left without needed care.

Yet government agencies have not issued detailed guidance about how to protect these at-risk seniors amid the threat of the COVID-19 virus.

“I’m very disappointed and surprised at the lack of focus by the CDC in specifically addressing the needs of these high-risk patients,” said Dr. Carla Perissinotto, associate chief for geriatrics clinical programs at the University of California-San Francisco, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection.

In this vacuum, programs that serve vulnerable seniors are scrambling to adjust and minimize potential damage.

Meals on Wheels America CEO Ellie Hollander said “we have grave concerns” as senior centers and group dining sites serving hot meals to millions of at-risk older adults close. “The demand for home-delivered meals is going to increase exponentially,” she predicted.

That presents a host of challenges. How will transportation be arranged, and who will deliver the meals? About two-thirds of the volunteers that Meals on Wheels depends on are age 60 or older ― the age group now being told to limit contact with other people as much as possible.

In suburban Cook County just outside Chicago, AgeOptions, an Area Agency on Aging that serves 172,000 older adults, on Thursday shuttered 36 dining sites, 21 memory cafes for people with dementia and their caregivers, and programs at 30 libraries after the Illinois Department on Aging recommended that all such gatherings be suspended.

Older adults who depend on a hot breakfast, lunch or dinner “were met at their cars with packaged meals” and sent home instead of having a chance to sit with friends and socialize, said Diane Slezak, AgeOptions president. The agency is scrambling to figure out how to provide meals for pickup or bring them to people’s homes.

With Mather, another Illinois organization focused on seniors, AgeOptions plans to expand “Telephone Topics” — a call-in program featuring group discussions, lectures, meditation classes and live performances — for seniors now confined at home and at risk of social isolation.

In New York City, Mount Sinai at Home every day serves about 1,200 older adults who are homebound with serious illnesses and disabilities — an extraordinarily vulnerable group. A major concern is what will happen to clients if home care workers become sick with the coronavirus, are quarantined or are unable to show up for work because they have to care for family members, said Dr. Linda DeCherrie, Mount Sinai at Home’s clinical director and a professor of geriatrics at Mount Sinai Health System.

With that in mind, DeCherrie and her colleagues are checking with every patient on the program’s roster, evaluating how much help the person is getting and asking whether they know someone ― a son or daughter, a friend, a neighbor — who could step in if aides become unavailable. “We want to have those names and contact information ready,” she said.

If caregivers aren’t available, these frail, homebound patients could deteriorate rapidly. “We don’t want to take them to the hospital, if at all possible,” DeCherrie said. “The hospitals are going to be full and we don’t want to expose them to that environment.”

In San Francisco, UCSF’s Care at Home program serves about 400 similarly vulnerable older adults. “Testing [for the coronavirus] is even more of a problem for people who are homebound,” said Perissinotto, who oversees the program. And adequate protective equipment ― gloves, gowns, masks, eye shields — is extremely difficult to find for home-based providers, Perissinotto said, a concern voiced by other experts as well.

To the extent possible, UCSF program staff are trying to do video visits so they can assess whether patients are symptomatic ― feverish or coughing — before going out to their homes. But some patients don’t have the technology that makes that possible or aren’t comfortable using it. And others, with cognitive impairments who don’t have family at home, may not be able to respond appropriately.

At UCSF’s general medicine clinic, nonessential medical visits have been canceled. “I have a lot of older patients with chronic pain or diabetes who otherwise would come in for three-month visits,” said Dr. Anna Chodos, a geriatrician and assistant professor of medicine who practices in the clinic. “Now, I’m talking to them over the phone.”

“I’m less worried about people who can answer the phone and report on what they’re doing,” she said. “But I have a lot of older patients who are living alone with mild dementia, serious hearing issues and mobility impairments who can’t work their phones.”

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.