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Food on Wheels

Grocery and Meal Delivery Helps
People Stay Healthy at Home
By: CaregiverZone

Many seniors and people with disabilities can take care of themselves at home but have great difficulty shopping for groceries, either because stores are too far away or the packages too heavy to carry. A leading cause of hunger and poor nutrition among the elderly and disabled is the trouble they often have obtaining enough food to eat properly.

Tapping into meal and grocery delivery programs becomes essential for many people who want to remain healthy and continue to live at home. The good news: The number of such programs, both government-funded and private, has grown in recent years to serve their burgeoning population. Seniors, disabled people and caregivers can choose options best suited to their economic and dietary needs.

Some programs encourage their delivery persons to stay and chat with homebound people or check their welfare as part of the service.

Delivery options

Meals on Wheels, a government program launched in the 1960s as part of the Older American's Act, offers food to homebound seniors regardless of income level, accepting small payments from those who can afford it.

To qualify for OAA Meals on Wheels Service, a client must be:

  • 60 or older

  • Unable to leave home without help and unable to shop

  • Without reliable assistance in meal preparation

Many public and private organizations - local agencies, churches, civic groups, senior organizations, supermarkets and food co-ops - also sponsor a variety of low-cost meal and grocery delivery services.

The programs offer a range of public and private meal delivery services, so make sure to find out about both types of plans. In many cases, meal delivery is free. However, the sponsoring agency sometimes requests a small donation if a client can afford it. Some refer to themselves generically as "meals on wheels" even though they have no relation to the federal program.

Other possibilities include small grocery stores and food co-ops that have been in the neighborhood for a long time. To compete with larger supermarket chains, many of these stores will deliver orders of $10 or more to homebound customers. Finally, if you live in a community with a large senior or disabled population or an urban area with a lot of apartment dwellers, you may be able to find restaurants or diners that deliver on a regular basis.

Many services and stores allow customers to order meals and groceries - and sometimes pay for them - via phone, fax or Internet. Some companies ship the food to the customers' homes, while others deliver.

Ordering online

Ordering groceries via the Internet can be convenient. Several services offer non-prescription drugstore items, pet food, stationery and a variety of other items. Some sites provide calorie counters and ingredient lists to help ensure the foods meet seniors' dietary needs.

Internet companies tend to serve major metropolitan areas. Some guarantee same-day service with a couple of hours' notice, while others require a few days. Most offer supermarket items rather than entire meals, but some deliver deli and prepared foods.

Delivery fees vary among companies. Most charge a flat rate or a percentage of the order cost, while some deliver larger orders free.

Checklist for meal delivery services
  • Can they accommodate special dietary needs?

  • Are deliveries made on a regular schedule? Is the schedule flexible? Can you tailor it to your needs?

  • Can you also purchase meals for a healthy spouse or caregiver?

  • Will the service deliver more than one meal at a time?

  • Are weekly menus provided in advance?

  • If the customer stays in a hospital or with family for a period of time, is it possible to restart deliveries later without reapplying?

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