Tomorrow's Seniors Struggle Today
June 11, 2019Jim Oswald

Leia, a Meals on Wheels client, was on top of the world when she moved to San Francisco in the 80s. At 64, she has held a variety of careers including as a broadcast journalist, poetry teacher, as an information and cybersecurity consultant for a number of Silicon Valley startups including Napster and Stubhub, and working with the FBI to help architect security procedures for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The Jackson, Michigan native took advantage of all San Francisco had to offer — the Symphony, fine dining, and people watching in Union Square. In 2000, that all changed with a blink of an eye when she fell and fractured four vertebrae in her neck. Leia was able to return to work after the accident, but a few years later she suffered a pinched spinal nerve, a complication from the initial injuries, and became paralyzed with little-to-no ability to speak or move. She remained in a rehabilitation hospital for three years where she slowly regained her speech and some mobility.

Leia returned to her home in 2010 only to face a mountain of medical debt and the uncertainty of how she was going to take care of herself now that she could no longer work. She was bankrupt, suffering from chronic pain, seizures, and nausea.

Once all of her bills are paid each month, Leia has $100 left for food and other necessities. Yet, she does not qualify for certain financial assistance programs like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) because her combined income sources put her at just above 100% of Federal Poverty Level (FPL). Too much for some assistance, but surely not enough to live on in one of the most expensive cities in the country.

Finding and asking for help is hard when you’re struggling with health issues, and hunger. It’s even harder knowing that the independent life you led earning a salary is now gone. For a time, Leia was resistant to seeking out help. She did eventually learn how to get help for daily chores through In-Home Supportive Services which provide her with weekly light housework, laundry, transportation to appointments, and some shopping.

“It took me a while to figure out what services could be available for someone like me,” Leia explained. “I would go days without having enough food to eat, or any food in my refrigerator; I’d just drink water to feel full and keep my mind off of being hungry.”

In 2015, a social worker recommended to Leia that she contact Meals on Wheels San Francisco to get on the Home Delivered Meals program which helps individuals live independently in their homes by providing nutritious meals, a daily safety check, and friendly interaction. Leia made the call and soon after, was receiving meals daily. Leia says the warm and welcoming community of Meals on Wheels drivers, who always make sure to check up on her when delivering her meals seven days a week, made returning to the real world a reality and something she just could not envision after the accident.

“Meals on Wheels made it so terribly easy for me to ask for help. It felt like I was becoming a part of a bit of a community.” It was this strong community that helped Leia both nutritionally and socially. She loves the variety of foods that are prepared and the special care and attention to her dietary needs.

We hear stories from many Meals on Wheels recipients who struggle financially with balancing medical bills, housing and rent, and the overall high costs of living in San Francisco, with that of purchasing nutritious food. Seniors, many who live alone and have no supports, are expected to be able to navigate the system to find the services they need — healthcare, housing, and food security, all while managing their health. Sadly, it’s not always possible to address all of these issues, but Meals on Wheels is poised to assure that older adults like Leia do not go hungry, do not feel isolated, and continue to live independent and dignified lives in their own homes.

To inquire about our services, go to our Getting Started page.

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