Several dozen fifth graders from Tice Creek School in Walnut Creek rallied for Meals on Wheels and Senior Outreach Services on Friday afternoon, marking a celebratory — and adorable — end to what has been a month-long effort to ratchet up support for the meal delivery and aid service.
Under adult supervision, the students marched at 11 a.m. to the city’s Civic Park, where they held signs supporting the Contra Costa chapter of the program. As they walked, several youngsters earnestly implored passerby to “Call your grandma!” and “Tell seniors you love them!”
"We were chanting so people could hear us," said 11-year-old Sophia Meisel. "We got so many honks from cars, and it was just really fun. It made us feel grateful and special.”
Too young to understand budget cuts, the kids' advocacy efforts — dubbed "March for Meals" — could hardly be construed as political, yet they do come at a pressing time for Meals on Wheels and other senior service providers.
In mid-march, President Donald Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, surprised employees and recipients of the program by stating that it is a waste of federal funds.
“Meals on Wheels sounds great, but we cannot defend that anymore,” Mulvaney said. “We can't spend money on programs just because they sound good.”
Trump’s budget proposed gutting $3 billion from the Community Development Block Grant under the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which supports a number of programs, including Meals on Wheels. Other cuts included $715 million from the Community Services Block Grant under the Department of Health and Human Services, which funds the Older Americans Act.
If followed through by Congress, those cuts would have a colossal impact on Meals on Wheels, which annually feeds more than 2 million seniors nationwide. A majority of those seniors rely on the program for half of the food they consume, according to a program factsheet.
Elaine Clark, the program's chief executive officer at the Walnut Creek office, said her program would lose at least $100,000, if Trump’s cuts are approved. The cut would necessitate a scaling back of crucial services, including reducing the number of "core support staff" the program employs.
“It would be devastating,” she said. “It includes all the services that are the safety net, locally, so we can’t let that happen. We need to use our voices, like the kids are doing right now.”
Meals on Wheels and Senior Outreach Services provided aid to more than 6,530 Contra Costa County seniors through both its delivery and congregate meal services, in which seniors dine together in community settings. Touting the program’s efficacy, Clark invited people who don’t believe in the program to join a volunteer ride along.
“I would like to invite every single one of those folks out on a meal delivery, and they will see just how impactful that meal and that wellness check is,” Clark said.
Despite those benefits, however, she noted that 25,000 of the county’s elderly residents report struggling with hunger. Nationwide, that number jumps to 10.2 million, an obstacle the "March for Meals" campaign was designed to address before Mulvaney’s remarks gave the program an unexpected publicity boost.
“'March for Meals' brings attention to the need for helping seniors in their homes,” Clark said, drowned out by a chorus of 11-year-olds shouting “End senior hunger!”
“Often it’s a senior who is lonely, who is at risk for malnutrition. So, It’s about letting people know that seniors are important. We can’t forget that. They’re struggling, and they need our support,” she stressed.