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May 07, 2020

4 Out of 5 Meals on Wheels Programs Report Demand at Least Doubled

Arlington, VA, May 7, 2020 – A new survey conducted by Meals on Wheels America finds that nearly all local Meals on Wheels programs are experiencing increased demand, with four in five programs reporting that new meal requests have doubled since March 1, 2020, when concerns over COVID-19 and social distancing measures began taking hold.

“There is no debate that older Americans have borne the brunt of this pandemic, and if we only examine infection, hospitalization and death rates, we vastly underestimate the true impact,” said Ellie Hollander, President and CEO, Meals on Wheels America. “This survey data offers critical insights into the level of support necessary now and beyond the pandemic, to ensure we meet the needs of our most vulnerable populations.”

Shelter-in-place orders designed to keep the most high-risk Americans safe amid the pandemic have created a rapid increase in the number of seniors who rely on home-delivered meals as their primary source of food. This, coupled with supply chain and work force disruptions, makes delivering large quantities of meals to a growing number of seniors more expensive and challenging than ever before.

Programs reported substantive shifts in their operations in April, compared to the week prior to March 1:

  • 89 percent of programs have seen an increase in meal requests; of those, 79 percent report the number of new requests for meals has at least doubled
    • 17 percent of West Coast programs are seeing 900 percent more new requests for meals per week
  • Programs are serving 56 percent more meals and 22 percent more seniors per week
    • 29 percent of rural programs have increased the number of seniors served by 50 percent or more
  • Waiting lists for meals, which existed before the COVID-19 crisis, have grown by 26 percent
  • Aside from funding, 63 percent of programs report that acquiring safety supplies (gloves, masks, etc.) is the biggest challenge

Meals on Wheels programs around the country are uniquely positioned to reach vulnerable individuals and have developed creative solutions to quickly and safely ramp up food delivery. In Rockland County, NY, program managers secured a freezer semi-trailer to store prepared meals and began delivering multiple meals at a time, allowing them to increase the number of meals served from 8,000 in March to more than 20,000 in April.  

Meals on Wheels Mesa County of Mesa County, CO, is storing additional meals in donated freezer space at a local convention center and serving food curbside for pickup out of a community restaurant two times a week to serve their Palisades, CO, clients and increase their capacity.

As the spread of the virus continues and discussions over how and when to end stay-at-home orders ensue, many Meals on Wheels program managers expect client demand to grow even more.

“Sheltering at home is keeping seniors safe, but we must also strengthen and protect the support systems that enable them to do that, such as nutrition services and programs that reduce isolation,” said Hollander. “We can’t do one without the other.”

Since establishing its COVID-19 Response Fund on March 16, 2020, Meals on Wheels America has distributed nearly $7 million to more than 450 local providers on the front lines of the crisis nationwide. To learn more or donate, visit

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The survey was conducted between April 22-28 amongst Meals on Wheels America’s Membership, which is representative of the national senior nutrition provider network of 5,000+ individual community-based programs. The survey has a +/- 4% margin of error.

Meals on Wheels America is the leadership organization supporting the more than 5,000 community-based programs across the country that are dedicated to addressing senior isolation and hunger. This network serves virtually every community in America and, along with more than two million staff and volunteers, delivers the nutritious meals, friendly visits, and safety checks that enable America’s seniors to live nourished lives with independence and dignity. By providing funding, leadership, education, research, and advocacy support, Meals on Wheels America empowers its local member programs to strengthen their communities, one senior at a time. For more information, or to find a Meals on Wheels provider near you, visit