Santa Clara County Meals on Wheels Program Provides Older Adults with Support and Nutritious Meals

It was a fellow church member that pointed Charlene Smith in the direction that would become her saving grace. A homebound older adult, Smith had seen her ability to perform everyday tasks decline due to health issues. One of the hardest hit areas barring her independence was her inability to shop for groceries and prepare nutritious meals for herself. However, thanks to that random meeting at church, Smith would soon see her prayers answered through a Santa Clara County program: Meals on Wheels.

Within days of reaching out to Sourcewise, a senior-focused service provider in Santa Clara County, Smith received her first Meals on Wheels delivery.

According to Aiysha Ahmed, Managing Dietitian for the Social Services Agency’s Department of Aging and Adult Services Senior Nutrition Program, "the Meals on Wheels program is a partnership between the County of Santa Clara and Sourcewise. It is for participants who are specifically homebound and unable to shop or prepare meals for themselves and was created to serve individuals like Smith.” Ahmed added that, “participants receive 14 frozen meals and grocery bag deliveries with a loaf of bread, milk, juice, fruits, peanut butter, and crackers. There's a whole variety of foods, and these are weekly deliveries."

Marquez Robinson in Trio's kitchen prepping food for weekly Meals on Wheels deliveries
Marquez Robinson in Trio's kitchen prepping food for weekly Meals on Wheels deliveries

Table to Table

Trio Community Meals (Trio), a food production partner, is at the center of the Santa Clara County Meals on Wheels efforts. Trio assists local senior-focused organizations and agencies by providing food preparation to support congregate sites and nutritious home-delivered meals.

The circle of life for Meals on Wheels extends from table to table. The process begins at a Trio food prep table and ends when each fresh meal is placed on a participant's table. Each morning, Steven Nevarez, Food Service Director for Trio in Santa Clara County, huddles around a worktable with his team to prepare nutritious meals for food-insecure older adults. It is the long-reaching effects of these efforts that remind Nevarez that what he does is more than a job – it’s a mission.

“Trio operates three versions of senior nutrition services. We have 13 satellite kitchens in San José that prepare freshly cooked meals for seniors,” said Nevarez. “Every so often, I get to go out and drive a route for Meals on Wheels. The older adults are grateful to us because we are providing them with the only source of food that they may have and we're providing this every week. That, in and of itself, is fulfilling enough to keep me coming to work.” 

Since its inception in Santa Clara County  in 1974, the Meals on Wheels program has helped more than 1.4 million older adults in our area. The program, managed by the County of Santa Clara Social Services Agency’s Department of Aging and Adult Services, is dedicated to protecting county older adults from facing barriers to receiving wholesome meals.

“We currently deliver meals to about 1,200 participants in the Meals on Wheels Program. So, it's a very large program," said Mary Ann Warren, who directs the Department of Adult and Aging Services. "The suggested contribution from program participants is $1.80 per day, and they can write a monthly check for this. No one is denied a meal if they are unable to contribute. We want to make sure we are addressing the hunger needs of the older adult community regardless of their ability to pay.”

A Family Affair

Meals on Wheels food deliveries are not limited to participants and have expanded to include meal deliveries for the recipient’s spouse and/or disabled dependents. Since the minimum age for eligibility is 60 years, Managing Dietitian Aiysha Ahmed sees the program becoming more essential as the older adult community expands throughout Santa Clara County.

"Our community is aging and, as the years go by, our older population is increasing. We want to help those who are homebound and older adults to ensure they're taken care of and can age in place healthfully. These nutritious meals are such a great way to maintain one's independence and one's health," said Ahmed.

Since it takes a village approach to prepare daily meals, Trio’s employees will be the first to admit that the entire process of serving County older adults feels more like a family affair than work for them.  Marquez Robinson, who works at Trio, says the best part of his job is knowing that for every meal he prepares there is an older adult on the other end who will not have to go hungry this week.

“I love working here, we are all very close and it feels like a family to me. Occasionally, they take me out to help the drivers and I get to meet some of the people that we deliver food to and some of these elderly people don't get a lot of visitors,” said Robinson. “I’ve taken a ride with one of the Meals on Wheels drivers and she knows everyone on her route. She's been doing this for years and she knows everyone's name. Seeing that is probably the most fulfilling part for me.”

Food and Friendship

Meal on Wheels driver Edgardo Villalon has become more than a weekly delivery man for Charlene Smith – he’s become a friend.

As Smith receives her weekly meal delivery from Villalon, she keeps her table set knowing that she doesn’t have to guess where her next meal will come from. Thinking back on the chance meeting that led Smith to this moment, she can’t help but be grateful for how dramatically different her life is since signing up for the Meals on Wheels program.

“I appreciate the care and concern I receive from Edgardo very much,” remarked Smith. “I also get weekly calls from the Friends of Meals on Wheels, where they check in to see how I'm doing. I appreciate that. It's all a blessing.”

For more information about Meals on Wheels, call Sourcewise at 408-350-3200 and select option 4, or visit their website at mysourcewise.com.


By Saraa Kami, Office of Communications and Public Affairs

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