Sometimes people can underestimate the value of a tasty warm meal, and sharing it with good company.

But this is something many homebound elderly do not experience for various reasons.

It’s a sad state to be in – alone and socially isolated. But due to mobility or health issues, many elderly people cannot venture out of their own homes. And as their social circles diminish, they find the have fewer visitors.

And on top of that, many find they cannot do their own food shopping and meal preparations.

This is an issues that is seen here in Australia, and around the world.

In the States, there is a service called Citymeals on Wheels. They’ve been feeding and caring for older New Yorkers since 1981, by providing a continuous lifeline of food and human company to the city’s homebound elderly.

Jose Luis Sanchez, Vice President of Meals on Wheels New York State, spoke at Aging2.0 event, The Meal Deal: Innovative Approaches to Meal Delivery for Older Adults in New York earlier today about their initiatives.

Citymeals works in a public-private partnership with NYC’s Department for the Aging, funding community-based meal centers to deliver over 2 million weekend, holiday and emergency meals to over 18,000 of frail aged neighbors.

In addition to being a provider of funds it is also a coordinator of volunteers who last fiscal year coordinated 21,152 unique volunteers, resulting in 67,775.70 hours of volunteer service to the community.

He spoke about how they plan to expand their program so that they can can care for more New Yorkers

These included the “Friendly Visiting” program, which is a commitment by volunteers matched to meal recipients based on like interests facilitated by Citymeals funded friendly visiting coordinators.

The focus of this program is to introduce more “companionship” to the meal service. For many of the recipients, they rarely leave their homes or have visitors – the delivery people may the first person they see in days.

By spending time and bonding over common interests, the Friendly Visiting program tries to reduce the social isolation that thousands of elderly experience.

Mr Sanchez also spoke about the Oral Health Study partnership/pilots that they have collaborated with Columbia University Dental School.

He acknowledges that oral hygeine can be a challenge for some of the recipients of CityMeals, and the dental issues can lead to other my challenging health conditions.

“As funder of the weekend, holiday, and emergency meals we want to not only ensure meals are culturally competent as most currently are; but also strive to provide academic research on the benefits of  dental intervention/daily dental routine coupled with meals produced to the oral health needs of our meal recipients which we hope will illustrate positive health outcomes,” says Mr Sanchez.

“If we are successful on gaining these research outcomes we hope to be empowered to then educate donors, advocate elected officials, and work collaboratively with our government partner the city’s Department for the Aging on the need for modified meals based on the oral health needs of all of our meal recipients.”

Though Mr Sanchez says that “I can provide a local flavor to the discussion at hand  while keeping a big picture in mind as I have had the privilege of working intimately with NY state meals on wheels on an annual conference, and food security issues facing older adults,” he highlights that this isn’t just a local issues.

Housebound elderly, who live in social isolation and struggle with having a warm meal and dental care, is something that is seen all around the world.

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