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The History of Meals on Wheels

Meals on Wheels is a non-profit volunteer community service program that helps enable participants to live independently at home by preparing and delivering nutritious meals to qualified homebound seniors 60 years of age or older. Meals are also provided to disabled individuals unable to prepare or obtain adequate meals.

The first Meals on Wheels program was started in the Baltimore area in 1960 by Ernestine McCollum of the Maryland Home Economics Association and Beatrice Strouse, who represented the Baltimore Section of the National Council of Jewish Women. They had researched a similar program that was developed in London, England at the end of World War II. The kitchen site where meals were first prepared was the current Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital.

At its beginning, Meals on Wheels served over ten homebound clients with the help of only several volunteers. Today, over one million home-delivered meals are prepared and delivered to clients throughout the U.S. that are associated with over 5,000 independently-run local programs.

From there, two other important elements started to stem from the program. First, Meals on Wheels was providing important in-person visits to seniors and disabled individuals who otherwise would have been left alone and isolated as an result from being homebound or not able to get out of their homes. Volunteers delivering meals to such clients allowed them to have important social interaction with others consistently. Volunteers generally delivered meals to the same seniors so over time a friendly relationship would evolve between the volunteer and the client. Second, as the volunteers generally arrived at the client’s home each day around the same time, should the client not answer the door, this would prompt the volunteer to make sure that the client inside was alright. If the client was not able to answer the door because they needed medical assistance, the volunteer would be available to immediately call for help. These additional benefits of Meals on Wheels continue to this day.

Today, individuals are able to use the national Meals on Wheels website as a resource to determine if meals are delivered in their area or are delivered in an area of a loved one who lives far away by simply entering in a zip code.

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