Covid-19 hit in March 2020, plunging the nation into lockdown and resulting in millions of seniors finding themselves in need of support. For some, the move to Meals on Wheels improved their lives in many healthy and heart-warming ways.
One of those was Roberto (Robert) Montanez, a disabled man living in Bernalillo, NM. In his younger days, Robert was a successful construction worker in Seattle, WA. However, his life changed forever a few decades ago when he fell from a three-story building on a construction site in Seattle that left him permanently disabled. While he was able to manage on his own before COVID-19 hit, the additional challenges of shopping and getting out during the pandemic led him to sign up for Meals on Wheels.
For Robert, even small tasks that many of us often take for granted are very challenging. Cooking is especially difficult, as his disability impacts his fine motor skills and makes it nearly impossible for him to use utensils.
“The simplest things can make me so frustrated,” he reports.
Even with the mobility limitations imposed by his disability, Robert was accustomed to using his walker to get out of the house, connect with people in his neighborhood and shop for groceries. Since COVID hit, Robert says it’s a struggle just to survive. “COVID changed my whole life. Even my attitude and way of thinking have changed,” he says.
During this trying year, Meals on Wheels has been a considerable help in alleviating some of Robert’s daily stressors. Deliveries from Meals on Wheels are healthy, delicious and easy for him to microwave, which vastly improves the quality of his life every day. But for Robert, easing the burden of cooking isn’t the only benefit of Meals on Wheels. The program also helps him feel less alone.
Unexpected Connections in Difficult Times
The pandemic didn’t just impact our physical environments — it has also taken a toll on our mental well-being. In January 2021, four times as many adults reported symptoms of anxiety and depression than in 2019. Robert says that COVID has made him much more anxious – he often struggles to fall asleep and wakes up during the night worrying. His inability to connect with others, or even leave the house, makes him feel lonely and hopeless.
For Robert and millions more like him, Meals on Wheels provided a spark of connection during one of the loneliest years in American history. “On Thursdays, [Meals on Wheels] brings me the paper,” Robert said. “And on Mondays, Mary, my volunteer, calls me just to chat.” In his short time receiving the service, Robert has particularly enjoyed getting to know Mary, because she shares a long history in Washington state. The two often talk about their memories of life on the Puget Sound and the unique personalities of the small towns where they lived.
Robert tells us that Meals on Wheels even brought him flowers one day. “That really brightened my day,” he said.
Studies have shown time and time again that loneliness has a negative health impact on all of us – not just older adults. Loneliness increases the risk of premature death and severe problems like dementia. Meals on Wheels does its part to reduce feelings of loneliness for homebound seniors with check-in calls, greeting cards and special deliveries – like Robert’s bouquet of flowers.
In addition to the 19 million additional meals served during the pandemic, Meals on Wheels also made more than 490,000 check-in calls to seniors and sent more than 11,000 cards with encouraging messages. These bright spots helped seniors feel connected during a lonely and frightening time, even when they can’t leave their homes.
A Network of Support
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the value of connection. In this lonely year, we’ve learned to treasure our time with friends and family, even if it’s only through video calling. Although the end of COVID-19 may optimistically be in sight, seniors like Robert will continue to rely on Meals on Wheels for months, or even years to come – to give them the valuable access they need to healthy food and life-saving human connection.
Robert’s positive experience with his local Meals on Wheels program is made possible, in large part, by the caring donors who recognize the growing number of seniors in need. During the pandemic, Meals on Wheels America sent more than $31 million into the communities that needed it most – including the Meals on Wheels Albuquerque that serves Robert. With grants sent to 628 communities across the United States, millions of seniors in lockdown have been able to rest assured that they can get healthy food, companionship and a helping hand.
When asked how the program makes him feel, Robert summed it up with just one word: “relief.” Meals on Wheels helps homebound seniors feel secure, supported and safe.
If you’d like to support your senior neighbors through the pandemic and beyond, consider donating to our Make Good Go Further™ campaign. Learn more at: https://www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org/GoFurther.