By Kaitlynn Drollinger
The early months of this year at our office felt undeniably nervy. As the all-out effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act went full steam ahead in the Senate, there was palpable fear amongst my colleagues. It was often unspoken, but it was there. We all knew far too well what was at stake and who would be hurt.
I’d come to DMI three years ago, quickly finding purpose amongst the smart and unwaveringly caring individuals who’d also found their calling fighting the long arduous battles with conglomerate insurance companies to get care for people who so desperately needed it. The men and women I work with spend their work days pouring over difficult and jarring accountings of troubled teens as they craft their arguments on why their mental health treatment was necessary. They spend their busy days speaking with families at the end of their wits and insurance representatives that can never seem to make the connection between the information on their screens and the people, their members, whose lives hang in the balance. They often have spouses and partners on their cases for working so much – but it’s engrained in them. They care.
DMI’s holiday charity drive for “Christmas Box House,” a temporary housing for children in limbo between adoption and foster care was met with such enthusiasm by staff that a charity project throughout the year seemed like the natural conclusion. Our Vice President, who was at the time shuttling between the office (now bursting at its seams with growing staff) and the heated healthcare round tables at state and national capitals to argue against the looming repeal of the ACA, suggested looking into a charity project that would help other programs facing uncertain futures. The search ended when we found Meals on Wheels.
Meals on Wheels was founded under the “Older Americans Act” of 1965, and signed by then President Richard Nixon. The colossal program, with at least one branch in all fifty states, prepares and delivers daily meals to seniors who can no longer go out or cook for themselves. The program is a lifeline, helping elderly Americans maintain independence while remaining in their homes. Home delivered meals can be a literal lifesaver when meager fixed incomes are being stretched thin to cover basic necessities.In many states, the need for services is so strong that Meals on Wheels programs currently have waiting lists. The program asserts that they are serving “23 million fewer meals today than in 2005 due to funding that has not kept pace with inflation, as well as the rapid and consistent growth in America’s senior population.” With the population of elderly citizens set to double by the year 2050, the announcement of proposed slashes of the federal funding sent panic and alarm throughout Meals chapters throughout the country.
The program provides much more than just a meal. Their deliveries to seniors serve as a daily welfare check, prevention against the declining health in this vulnerable population caused by hunger, and as a much-needed interaction with a friendly individual. In some cases, the program volunteer may be the only person a meal recipient sees all day. Meals on Wheels, at its core, strives to combat hunger and isolation. It seemed fitting with our company mission to be fighting for such basic concepts of healthcare, food, and human interaction.
The Meals on Wheels program is impressively efficient in their operations, maximizing their resources to help as many as possible. Volunteers are integral to program: when volunteers make the deliveries, the program saves funds that can then be used to increase the number of meals prepared each day. The food preparation, loading and driving is hard work, and the interactions with recipients require personable, warm and caring volunteers. It seemed a natural fit for the employees of Denials Management, Inc.
The call went out to staff at the end of May. Needed: Volunteers to drive meal deliveries to elderly recipients along our adopted delivery route. Deliveries to be made during lunch hours, volunteers will use their personal vehicles. Responses were swift – in fact, there were more interested staff than available volunteer slots. Volunteers were paired in twos, alternating turns driving and riding along. With summer temperatures in Salt Lake City typically at or around 100 degrees in the afternoons, everyone secretly hoped to be paired with the coworker whose car had the best air conditioning. Food bags were dropped off with heating adapters and coolers of milk and juice each morning, then packed into trunks and backseats by our volunteers each afternoon. The first few excursions usually involved cell phone GPS directions and awkward knocks on unfamiliar front doors, but soon evolved into visits as familiar as those to any personal friends or family.
In total, DMI contributed more than 200-man hours of volunteer time, paired with over 200 pounds of donated pet food. Meals on Wheels recently began collecting donations of pet food that are sent out with meals to feed the dogs and cats the recipients often consider family. There is no shortage of pet lovers at DMI – we wouldn’t want the animals going hungry either.
The Meal recipients on our route included a veteran named Alfred (the sound of the John Wayne western he was watching one afternoon brought on a melancholy memory of my grandparents), a retired Spanish teacher who was overjoyed that one of our volunteers could speak Spanish with her – and whose yorkie, “Peaches,” had to be corralled back inside on more than one occasion. There was an elderly mother and daughter in- law who lived together, one of which was confined to a wheelchair. They were soft spoken and sweet. We counted down the days to a 100th birthday with another recipient, Bernie, and brought flowers, a birthday balloon and a card with all of our signatures when the big day finally arrived. We all now have a special place in our hearts for Shirley, who remembered each of us by name and thanked us until we had to leave to get back.
An insurance overturn obtained for the families we serve as our clients is a hard fight, and takes time. Our charity drive for the Christmas Box House, while rewarding, didn’t allow for us to see the children we were helping. Working with Meals on Wheels was, in many ways, just as helpful to us as it is to the seniors it serves across the nation each day. The program provided our unwavering and caring volunteers a direct and instantaneous method to better someone’s situation, to ease a struggle, and to brighten someone’s day.