A number of Santa Barbara seniors were pleasantly surprised Thursday to meet Rep. Salud Carbajal on their doorsteps loaded up with hot, homemade meals.
He joined Barbie Zimmerman, a Meals on Wheels volunteer, on her regular route to deliver the meals to elderly individuals who either have difficulty cooking meals or affording the food cost. Zimmerman is one of many volunteers who pick up and hand-deliver meals daily to around 10-20 homes. The prices vary based on a sliding-income scale, but are usually about $4 a meal.
“In my job, we pass legislation to fund programs just like this, but you don’t always get to see them in action,” Carbajal said. “People like Barbie are inspiring. They give themselves to the community and make it great.”
Zimmerman’s Santa Barbara route is part of a greater national effort to feed the elderly and disadvantaged. According to Meals on Wheels, nearly 9.5 million seniors are threatened by hunger nationwide, 5.5 million of whom are considered food insecure, or lack access to good, healthy food.
The vehicle was filled with the good smells of soup, chicken, and vegetable side dishes as Zimmerman and Carbajal made their way to 10 homes on Thursday. The majority of the recipients were seniors, but some had a physical injury or suffered from mental illness. Certain meals were tailored to meet dietary restrictions as well. Meals on Wheels delivers 200 million meals to 2.4 million seniors nationwide each year.
“We need the worker bees who go out into the community,” Zimmerman said, in addition to those who write checks. She first helped deliver the meals with her grandmother when she was a child, and again years later with her high school-aged daughter. “Once my daughter went off to college, I realized I missed delivering the meals, so I got my own weekly route,” she said.
Zimmerman’s job extends beyond the meal delivery. Although some people don’t come to the door and request she leave their meals on their doorstep, others are eager to invite her inside and chat. One elderly woman said she looks forward to Zimmerman’s visit each week to show off her garden and the progress she’s made on her puzzles. Recently, Zimmerman brought her a book by one of her favorite authors, and she was thrilled to have a new read and excited to have someone to discuss it with.
“Aside from their nutritional needs, seniors really need more human contact,” Carbajal said. “Many of them are lonely and need as much social time as they can get.” According to the Meals on Wheels website, one in five seniors say they feel lonely. Nearly 60 percent of those who receive meals from the program live alone and say the meal delivery volunteer is the only person they see all day.
The House of Representative recently approved a bill that reauthorized for five more years the Older Americans Act (OAA), a landmark law that for more than 50 years has funded programs like Meals on Wheels. It increases funding for its programs by 7 percent in federal fiscal year 2020 and by 6 percent in each year from 2021 to 2024, but has not yet passed the Senate.
The OAA funds 39 percent of Meals on Wheels deliveries nationally, and the other 61 percent comes from local resources. In Santa Barbara, funding comes from a host of local donors including Montecito Bank & Trust, the United Way, and the Rotary Club, among others.
“It gives me peace of mind to ride along with Barbie and witness the volunteer work in action,” Carbajal said. “I am proud to help pass legislation that supports these efforts.”