Despite our technologically-connected society, people are lonelier than ever. Nowhere is social isolation and loneliness more evident than among older Americans. According to Meals on Wheels America, one in four seniors live alone. Locally, 72 percent of East Cooper Meals on Wheels’ recipients are on their own.
East Cooper Meals on Wheels serves anyone who is homebound or unable to provide their own meals, regardless of age or income status. Of the some 300 people who receive meals each day, about 85 percent are 60 years or older. This means many older recipients are unable to get out of the house and engage with neighbors or friends on a regular basis.
New research reveals significant health impacts of social isolation and feelings of loneliness. The negative effects of loneliness on a person’s health are similar to smoking up to 15 cigarettes per day.
An organization like East Cooper Meals on Wheels is critical in fighting social isolation among the senior population. Volunteer drivers may be the only person a homebound senior interacts with all day. That volunteer delivery driver does so much more than drop off a healthy meal. Volunteers check in on recipients’ wellbeing, often doing small household tasks like changing a lightbulb or putting the garbage can on the street. They spend some time talking with the older recipient and, over the years, friendships grow strong.
During the holiday season, East Cooper Meals on Wheels is reminding people it is much more than a meal. The nonprofit organization has launched a “Food. Friends. Family.” fundraising and social media campaign to highlight the ways it is helping combat social isolation among seniors and other homebound neighbors living east of the Cooper. Volunteers are sharing stories about the friendships they have made with recipients, fellow volunteers and East Cooper Meals on Wheels staff members.
Lori and Rob Bellacicco are long-time East Cooper Meals on Wheels volunteers. They’ve forged a special bond with recipient Carrie Mae Brown. They even brought Brown to their home to celebrate Thanksgiving last year.
“We spoke about the blessings we received throughout the year and then shared a great meal and time in fellowship, the Bellaciccos recalled. “Carrie Mae added to the conversation and laughter with stories about her childhood and exciting life.”
They’ve even taken Brown out to lunch for her birthday and to Sullivan’s Island. Even though Brown says she loves the beach, she hadn’t visited in 15 years.
Volunteer Gina Shaw has formed a bond with East Cooper Meals on Wheels recipient Fred Lightfoot, who has Parkinson’s disease and is confined to a wheelchair. Shaw knows how much Lightfoot loves Italian food so she’s made him spaghetti and meatballs as a special treat. They talk about current events and Shaw’s travels.
“A warm meal and a few minutes of conversation really does make a difference,” Shaw said. “Sometimes I am the only person they will see that day, so there is not only a nutritional benefit to MOW, but my visit also serves as a wellness check. It is truly the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done, and I’m so happy to be helping out my community.”
George Roberts, president and CEO of East Cooper Meals on Wheels, can share countless stories like this.
“The meals we deliver each day are just one piece of what we provide as an organization. Yes, we provide food, but the friendships that form are really at the heart of what we do. Our volunteers are really making a difference in the lives of our East Cooper seniors, who might otherwise spend days on end by themselves.”
Make a donation to support the work of East Cooper Meals on Wheels at www.ecmow.org. The local nonprofit is fully funded by donations and receives no federal funding. Connect with East Cooper Meals on Wheels on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @ECMealsonWheels to see even more volunteer stories.