“There are only four kinds of people in the world – those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.” – Rosalynn Carter
According to the US Dept of Health and Human Services, “most Americans will be informal caregivers at some point during their lives. During any given year, there are more than 44 million Americans (21% of the adult population) who provide unpaid care to an elderly or disabled person 18 years or older. Altogether, informal caregivers provide 80 percent of the long-term care in the United States.
- Sixty-one percent of caregivers are women.
- Most caregivers are middle-aged.
- Thirteen percent of caregivers are aged 65 years and older.
- Fifty-nine percent of informal caregivers have jobs in addition to caring for another person. Because of time spent caregiving, more than half of employed women caregivers have made changes at work, such as going in late, leaving early, or working fewer hours.”
Many studies show that caregiving takes a toll on the emotional, financial and physical lives of the caregiver. That is why it is so important to find programs which alleviate some of the work that a caregiver has to do. These include adult day care, transportation services, and personal care services.
Meal delivery and grocery shopping services are some of the other programs available to help caregivers. Since 1971, Meals on Wheels of Lehigh County, with the help of volunteers, has provided home-delivered meals to adults, who are primarily homebound, throughout Lehigh County. This vital service is available to any adult who is unable to cook for themselves because of age, illness or disability and who does not live with anyone who can do this for them. The service is available on a temporary short-term or long-term basis and fees are based on a sliding scale so that it is affordable.
One of the benefits of the Meals on Wheels delivery is providing peace of mind to the caregiver who has many other responsibilities such as working or taking care of children. Knowing that someone is providing a hot meal and checking up on your loved one brings a lot of comfort. A Meals on Wheels client’s daughter is a flight attendant. She told Agency staff that knowing that the volunteers are checking on her mom takes away a lot of the anxiety she has when she is out of town for her job. A daughter of another client is the main caregiver to her 92-year-old father. She works part-time and babysits her grandchildren. She said that balancing everything in her life is not easy, but she has peace of mind knowing that her father has a “comforting smile, a warm meal and a little bit of conversation” every weekday when his Meals on Wheels volunteer knocks on his door.
If a Meals on Wheels client does not answer the door, the Agency’s protocol is to first call the client (sometimes they may be asleep or they did not hear the knock on the door). If they do not answer, the staff call the emergency contacts to make sure that the client is ok. There have been times when the police have to be called to do a safety check. The staff do not leave the office at the end of the day until the clients wellbeing is known. The service has actually saved lives.
Another program Meals on Wheels offers is grocery shopping. This service is available to meal delivery clients as well as to people who are able to cook but can’t manage going to the grocery store. Meals on Wheels will find a volunteer shopper who will shop on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis for a nominal fee. The volunteer shops at the clients’ preferred grocery stores. Clients are happy to have this service. One told the Agency staff “I love this service. I can’t carry my oxygen tank through the store. I am so happy that I don’t have to worry about how to get my groceries.” Another benefit of this program is that it also provides another social connection to the homebound family member. Our clients are happy with their shoppers and have called to tell us so. Another client told the Agency: “I have the best shopper in the east coast. He is so friendly and has saved me money.”
For information on home-delivered meals or grocery shopping, call the Meals on Wheels office at 610-398-2563 or visit our website at www.mealsonwheelslc.org
Michele Grasso, MPA is the Development Director at Meals on Wheels of Lehigh County