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COVID-19 has had a profound effect on older adults in the United States and has increased the need for services and resources for this population. Older adult-serving organizations – like Meals on Wheels – have had to shift their services and strategies to meet an increased demand for meal services, including home-delivered meals, during the pandemic in order to help older adults stay healthy and able to continue living independently in their own homes.

Shortly after the pandemic began in 2020, Meals on Wheels America developed a strategic research portfolio to better understand how the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted – and will continue to impact – older adults, local Meals on Wheels programs and the nutrition and aging landscapes at large. The learnings within our research portfolio will help to inform and guide us moving forward and enable us to best support our national network and the older adults it serves.


Our COVID-19 Fact Sheet uses easily digestible infographics built on data gathered from local Meals on Wheels programs to help tell the story of the pandemic's impact and Meals on Wheels programs' heroic response. 

Download the new COVID-19 Fact Sheet below!




From late October to early November 2020, NORC at the University of Chicago (NORC) conducted a study on behalf of Meals on Wheels America comprised of a nationally representative study and in-depth interviews. The study explored how COVID-19 had affected older adults (i.e., 60+ years of age); their perceptions of and experiences with Meals on Wheels; how they anticipated their behaviors would change as the pandemic evolves; how they anticipated their needs for and use of services would change; and implications for the Meals on Wheels network.  

The research study and corresponding COVID-19 and Older Adults: Research Findings and Implications for Meals on Wheels report offer valuable insights into the needs of, and perceptions held by, older adults who were recipients of Meals on Wheels services both pre- and during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as others who were not recipients of any type of Meals on Wheels services. The findings uncovered through this research exploration presented a number of considerations for Meals on Wheels programs and other community-based organizations that serve older adults to enhance services and address existing unmet need through the evolution of the pandemic and beyond.

This report is intended to be disseminated freely. In reproducing any excerpts of this report, please provide a credit, such as: “COVID-19 and Older Adults: Research Findings and Implications for Meals on Wheels was produced by NORC at the University of Chicago on behalf of Meals on Wheels America.”



Meals on Wheels America and Trailblazer Research embarked on a multi-pronged study at the end of 2020 designed to build on additional COVID-19 impact research conducted by Meals on Wheels America earlier in the year. Through this effort, Meals on Wheels America sought to quantify the accomplishments, pivots, challenges, perceptions and expectations of local Meals on Wheels programs so as to understand how best to meet their needs during the pandemic and beyond. This year-end study combined a quantitative survey of local programs that are Members of Meals on Wheels America with qualitative focus groups of programs to round out and add to this body of work.

This research effort deepened Meals on Wheels America’s knowledge of the breadth and depth of the pandemic’s impact on local programs’ operations. Findings helped Meals on Wheels America to better understand the shorter term impacts that COVID-19 had on local programs and the ways in which programs were able to quickly adapt their operations without interrupting or shuttering service. The findings also uncovered a number of ways in which programs were considering leveraging the changes they had had to make in light of the pandemic into lasting adjustments to their services.

A more detailed report is available upon request.

This report is intended to be disseminated freely. In reproducing any excerpts of this report, please provide a credit, such as: “The COVID-19 Member Impact Study was produced by Trailblazer Research on behalf of Meals on Wheels America.” 



In March 2020, as COVID-19 hospitalizations increased and shelter-in-place orders were announced in various states, Meals on Wheels America heard tales from local programs about sudden congregate program closures, shuttered in-person supportive services and loss of volunteer capacity coupled with unprecedented demand for home-delivered meals. Entire programs and operations were overhauled practically overnight. Since then, Meals on Wheels America has spearheaded multiple pulse surveys among local programs that are Members of Meals on Wheels America to quantify the extent and variety of these service changes, assess Members’ needs as a result of COVID-19 and better understand concerns about long-term sustainability. These surveys revealed a disrupted network facing unprecedented demand, increased costs and no clear end in sight.

FALL 2022

Our most recent Pulse Survey, fielded October 18 - November 7, 2022, gave us a snapshot of what Members were facing amid continued impacts of the pandemic, historic inflation, supply chain disruptions, staffing issues and more. Most notably, it found that four out of five Members (79%) were still delivering meals to more clients than before March 2020 and three out of four Members (77%) saw the all-in cost of a home-delivered meal increase in 2022, with over half seeing increases of 10% of more. 

APRIL 2022

More than two years into the pandemic, Meals on Wheels America conducted another pulse survey among its Member programs to monitor demand for Meals on Wheels-related services and other changes local programs have been facing. This survey uncovered the fact that eight out of 10 programs were still serving more home-delivered meals AND more home-delivered meal clients than they were before the pandemic. Programs are also facing a number of ongoing operations challenges, including rising food and gas prices, supply chain issues and staff retention.

JULY 2021

This pulse survey – conducted approximately six months after the last comprehensive assessment of Meals on Wheels America Member programs revealed that programs were still serving, on average, 57% more home-delivered meals and serving home-delivered meals to 44% more clients than before the pandemic began. More than four in five programs had also received federal emergency grants of some kind (e.g., Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act; Families First Coronavirus Response Act funding; etc.), and nearly half said they would not be able to support their current client base without continued infusions of cash beyond their typical reimbursements and contracts.

JULY 2020

This pulse survey found that nearly all local Meals on Wheels programs were experiencing financial strain and uncertainty while maintaining critical service to an estimated hundreds of thousands more seniors than before the pandemic hit in March 2020. This research was conducted three months after Meals on Wheels America’s initial benchmarking survey and revealed that programs were serving an average of 77% more meals and 47% more seniors than they were March 1, 2020, indicating a sustained increase in need for meals, and a continuing upward trajectory of senior client growth nationwide.

APRIL 2020

This benchmarking survey found that nearly all Meals on Wheels America Member programs were experiencing increased demand, with four in five programs reporting that new meal requests had doubled since March 1, 2020, when concerns over COVID-19 and social distancing measures began taking hold. This survey was conducted between April 22-28, 2020.