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.
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.
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.
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.
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.