BREMERTON — “Donald, Meals on Wheels is a wonderful program.”
That’s what Ed, a home-bound older adult, said he would tell President Trump about the importance of the program that has been providing meals and companionship for older adults in Kitsap County for the past 44 years.
He was sitting in the dining area of his small home, squinting into the harsh light of a TV station camera, and talking to Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Bremerton, on April 14.
Here’s why and how that meeting came about.
Kilmer had come home to draw his constituents’ attention to the importance of protecting Meals on Wheels, which could face serious cuts if the proposed federal budget were to pass.
In 2016, federal dollars helped Meals on Wheels provide 58,456 nutritious and well-balanced meals for 864 persons aged 60 and older in Kitsap County. One hundred two volunteers delivered those hot meals to medically home-bound seniors like Ed, as well as serving 10 community meal dining sites across the county.
Along with the food for the body, they also provided food for the soul, offering compassion and conversation for the socially isolated home-bound.
“We’re the safety check,” Meals on Wheels Kitsap Executive Director Deborah Horn said. “When they deliver meals, volunteers do environmental safety checks and often make time to chat a bit with lonely seniors. When they see repairs that need doing, many of those same volunteers come back later and do them, Horn said.
All of this adds up to older adults staying healthier and being able to “age in place,” she said, pointing out that a year’s worth of meals costs about the same as one day in the hospital.
Much of the money for Meals on Wheels comes from two federal programs, Kilmer said. One is Community Development Block Grants, which under the proposed budget would be eliminated entirely. (This would also affect affordable housing.) The other source of federal dollars is the Older Americans Act, which is administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS is facing a proposed 18 percent budget cut overall but “didn’t break out what services that would be cut,” Kilmer said.
In Kitsap County, federal dollars account for 51 percent of the Meals on Wheels budget. The remainder comes from donations, Horn said. “Any budget cut is difficult for nonprofits like ours,” she said. “How deeply such cuts would affect us depends on other sources.”
Back to Ed.
To put a human face on the numbers, Horn arranged for Kilmer — accompanied by an entourage of television and print reporters — to deliver a hot meal to Ed, who had agreed to be interviewed (Meals on Wheels asked that his last name and address not be used). Ed has been receiving Meals on Wheels for about three years.
Ed met them at the backdoor in a wheelchair, unfazed by the crowd on his doorstep. He used to work for early rock promoter Pat O’Day in Seattle, he said, and had dealt with celebrities like Joan Baez, Jerry Garcia and Timothy O’Leary.
He insisted everyone come in and get comfortable.
“Ignore the mess. I’m a hippie from the ’60s,” he said as he led his guests through the kitchen and into the neat dining room. One couldn’t help noticing the silverware service for one neatly lined up on the table, ready for the day’s meal.
“This is heaven sent,” Ed said, accepting the meal. “God bless you all. The meals are perfect. You get your vitamins, too.”
Then it was hugs for Horn, with whom Ed had spoken for years on the phone but never met in person. “Now, I can [place] a face with the name,” he said.
Ed, leaning forward and pointing, told Kilmer, “I love the program. [The volunteers] sit and talk a little bit. I love the program. I’m a talker. I love to talk to people. I call [Meals on Wheels Kitsap] every day and thank them and tell them how good the meal was. Everybody’s always been my friend.”
It is apparent he is as hungry for conversation as he is for food.
“Everybody looks forward to his calls,” Horn said with a smile.
Those calls and visits are important. Ed said he rarely goes out anymore.
“Who wants to go outside? My legs hurt [and] cramp.”
So what would happen if Meals on Wheels went away?
“It would probably mean a lot of people would be upset,” he said. “I wouldn’t have the good food I’m eating now.”
So, what would he eat?
“Probably oatmeal. I like oatmeal.”
But it won’t come to that, Ed insisted.
Ed voted for Trump and said he trusts him to protect older Americans like himself.
“Money can be moved around inside a budget, you know,” he told Kilmer in reference to proposed budget cuts.
“We deserve it. We live here in America.”
To volunteer or to make a donation, contact Meals on Wheels Kitsap, 2817 Wheaton Way, Suite 208, Bremerton, 360-377-8511, www.MealsonWheelsKitsap.org.
Terryl Asla is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.