Delivering hot, fresh meals door to door

Aging True employees and volunteers deliver Meals on Wheels to clients and their pets.
Aging True employees and volunteers deliver Meals on Wheels to clients and their pets.

It’s no secret that many Northeast Florida seniors suffer from food insecurity.

Aging True, a leading provider of programs that help Jacksonville’s older residents maintain their independence and age gracefully, is a major force in working to alleviate hunger among the elderly and disabled through its Meals on Wheels program.

“With the aging of the Baby Boomer generation, the largest in American history, each year brings an increase in the number of seniors in Duval County. This in turn indicates that more and more seniors are or will be in need of nutritional services, be it for health or financial reasons,” said Rosa Rivera, development coordinator with Aging True.

“The seniors we serve have an ongoing problem with food insecurity. In addition to having a limited, fixed income, our seniors suffer from multiple chronic health conditions that severely limit their ability to prepare food. Getting a fully prepared, individually packaged and nutrient-analyzed meal delivered to the door daily is a team project,” she said.

Founded in 1962, under the moniker of Cathedral Foundation of Jacksonville and in partnership with Urban Jacksonville, Inc., the nonprofit changed its name to Aging True in 2011 to “better reflect the services we provide and the seniors we serve,” according to its website.

“Over 50 years ago, Aging True organized Jacksonville’s first Meals on Wheels program. As a member of Meals on Wheels America, it is the only program in the city to qualify as an actual meal delivery program,” Rivera explained.

“What sets us apart, aside from our affiliation with the national brand, are the hot, fresh meals delivered every day to each of our clients,” she said. “While some clients may receive frozen food, depending on their area or by request, 98 percent of all clients receive a meal that was cooked earlier that morning.”

Through its Meals on Wheels program, Aging True currently serves more than 800 clients and has more than 700 homebound seniors on its waiting list, Rivera said. All Meals on Wheels clients also receive nutrition and health education via a monthly newsletter and are eligible for one-on-one nutritional counseling.

Under the watchful eye of a registered dietitian, nearly 300,000 meals are prepared and packaged by Aging True staff and delivered by Meals on Wheels drivers and community volunteers 252 days per year, she said, noting the menus meet 100 percent of the United States Department of Agriculture recommendations for a senior population. In October 2017, the nonprofit hired a new registered dietitian who updated the monthly menus, Rivera said.

“Getting a fully prepared, individually packaged and nutrient-analyzed meal delivered to the door daily is a team project.”

More than 800 meals are delivered to the residences of homebound seniors by staff and volunteers, which travel nearly 300 miles a day. Volunteering for the organization are individuals and groups from businesses, churches, civic organizations, as well as fraternities and sororities, who pick up meals from designated drop sites and deliver them on the same route at least once a month. Providing their own transportation, the volunteers typically cover a route of less than 10 miles, which can be completed within 60 minutes, according to the nonprofit’s website.

Not only do volunteers deliver food to elderly residents who have little support, no transportation, and live on meager fixed incomes, they also assist seniors by providing kind words, a warm smile, and a community connection – a daily safety check for the client.

In addition to serving senior residents, Aging True also has a Pet Meals on Wheels program, to provide nutritious, high-quality meals to the dogs and cats owned by homebound seniors, according to the website.

“At Aging True, we tell anyone who will listen about the needs that our seniors have and how much a gift of time or money will help us in our mission to support their health,” Rivera said.

Donations support the purchase of food, truck maintenance, administrative costs and rental space. “For those who have the time and interest in community work, we have a team of Meals on Wheels delivery volunteers, and we are always working to increase our ranks,” she said.

The nonprofit annually receives funds from the City of Jacksonville and the national association, Meals on Wheels America. Also providing regular philanthropic support are Underhill Home Healthcare, KC Petroleum, and Publix Supermarket Charities.

Aging True seeks to increase donations to its $1.7 million Meals on Wheels program “so it can afford to take on more clients at a faster pace,” said Rivera.

The nonprofit also hopes to find a new volunteer drop site in Jacksonville so it can reach more people and increase the number of routes it can service, she said. “These drop sites are assigned volunteers by our in-house coordinator or via their own recruitment,” Rivera explained.

“We expect this number to increase as the need arises in the city,” she said. “We are working to receive more support from the community in the form of individual donations, corporate partnerships, and grants.”