By Harley Nefe
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina invested $500,000 with Meals on Wheels of North Carolina to help improve the issue of food insecurity for seniors statewide. The money was distributed between all 100 counties in North Carolina, with each county receiving $5,000.
Meals on Wheels of North Carolina is a nonprofit statewide network of senior nutrition providers allied in passion to end senior hunger, according to its website.
The senior population in North Carolina is at 2,186,554 or 22% of the total state population. The number of seniors threatened by hunger is at 448,244 or 21%.
Before COVID-19, Meals on Wheels discovered nearly 1 in 4 seniors were threatened by hunger in North Carolina. By April, Meals on Wheels then saw an increase in need, with an average of 77% more meals and 47% more seniors being served compared to the month prior.
“We understand that 1 in 3 seniors are actually struggling from food insecurity, and so it’s important during this time to really reach out to them,” said Cheryl Parquet, Director of Community and Diversity Engagement at Blue Cross NC. “Meals on Wheels has been serving our community for years, but when COVID hit, the number of seniors that actually went into isolation because they could not get out just really grew.”
To increase seniors’ access to food across the state, Blue Cross NC is providing Meals on Wheels of North Carolina with emergency support to help the organization sustain operations during the increase in need and cost due to the pandemic.
“It was an opportunity to support Meals on Wheels and be able to reach our seniors,” Parquet said. “Sometimes the individuals who drop the meals off are the only people who these seniors actually see and so, to be able to support them during this time was really important for us.”
Locally, through this funding, the Watauga County Project on Aging, which is a part of the Meals on Wheels network, will be able to significantly increase the amount of seniors it serves.
The Project on Aging serves as a focal point for aging services in Watauga County. The agency encourages independence and promotes wellness by providing supportive services to the county’s older adults.
“The Project on Aging greatly appreciated the additional funding provided by the BCBSNC grant through Meals on Wheels of NC,” said Angie Boitnotte, Director of Watauga County Project on Aging.
The $5,000 is to help with meals, transportation and other operational expenses that are needed to be able to get the additional support out to communities.
So far, the Project on Aging has been able to buy additional reusable trays and hand sanitizers for its volunteers.
However, Boitnotte said, most importantly, they have been able to buy shelf-stable meals for their clients to have just in case they are not able to cook meals for a period of time.
“Being able to purchase these meals was a huge relief to me as a director,” Boitnotte said. “The possibility of my kitchen staff not being able to be here due to COVID issues was a huge weight on my shoulders. Having the BCBSNC funds to purchase the shelf-stable meals meant that we had an emergency back-up plan for our clients who depend on our meals.”
Boitnotte further said the Project on Aging is planning to buy additional masks, hand sanitizer and possibly caddies with the remainder of the funds.
“Blue Cross takes on the commitment to help reduce food insecurity across our state,” Parquet said. “We feel like food insecurity is a major cause when it comes to health and how it correlates to someone’s health. So, the more that we can go out and reduce these numbers, working with our seniors, working with other organizations that may be struggling such as our local food banks, it’s just really looking at how do we work to reduce food insecurity across our state.”