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Glendale, Ariz.

Serving Up Meals and Friendship to Homebound Seniors

WATCH VIDEO: YWCA staff and volunteers offer much-needed meals and companionship to homebound, low-income seniors in Arizona’s West Valley. Glendale Channel 11 “City Beat” News.

For hundreds of homebound, low-income seniors in the West Valley of Arizona – the state with the second largest population of seniors in the U.S. – the YWCA provides not only a hot, nutritious meal but much-needed daily social interaction.

YWCA of Maricopa County delivers 60,000 meals a year to homebound seniors and disabled adults and is steadily increasing its reach. It started its home-delivered meal service 20 years ago in Glendale and recently expanded the service to include neighborhoods in El Mirage. YWCA not only provides a healthy, dietician-approved meal five days a week but also checks on seniors' safety and wellbeing, offers conversation and friendship, and provides food for their pets. The YWCA also serves another 40,000 meals a year on-site at the YWCA Valley West Senior Center.

But YWCA's home-delivered meal service is about a lot more than food. It's about supporting the social and emotional needs of some of Maricopa County's most vulnerable residents.

"It's the nutrition in conjunction with the daily wellness check to make sure the person is okay," says Kathy Saunders, who is director of YWCA of Maricopa County’s Multi-Cultural Center and oversees programs for seniors. "For most, the meal they receive from YWCA is their main meal of the day. And for some, it’s the only social interaction they will receive that day."

Judi Pikop, a YWCA volunteer who delivers meals, shares: "Some [seniors] are in wheelchairs, some are blind… They can’t get anywhere. They can't cook. And we’re the only people they see."

"Before I got on [the meals program] I was trying to do everything myself. I burned my fingers pretty bad,” meal delivery recipient Anne Justice told a Glendale Channel 11 reporter. "Sometimes they’ll just… chat with me and that helps a lot."

Through the relationships YWCA created with the seniors they serve, YWCA staff began noticing a trend – a startling number of elders in the community were going without food and neglecting their own needs in order to purchase food for their beloved pets. In some cases, seniors were even sharing portions of their daily YWCA-delivered meal with their cat or dog.

So, in 2005, YWCA launched its We Feed Four Feet program and started taking pet food to seniors who were receiving home-delivered meals – ensuring that both the senior and the pet are well fed!

"They would feed their pets before they worried about their own nutrition," notes Saunders. "Their pet is their companion and sometimes all they have."

"Now they don’t have to suffer and not get the nutrition they need because they shared with their pet. Sometimes people are very critical, asking, ‘why do you have a pet if you can’t afford to eat?’ It isn’t just a dog or cat to them, it’s part of their family," she adds. "They know that we know how important their pets are to them."

Pets can be a vital source of companionship for many homebound seniors. Medical studies have demonstrated that independently living seniors who have pets tend to have better physical health and mental well-being. Elders with pets are also more active, cope better with stress, and have better overall health than their counterparts who do not own a pet.

"Through this program, the seniors see that we value them and what they care about, and they don’t have to feel ashamed to ask for help," says Saunders. "It also helps us learn about their situation so that we can provide other services and have a case worker look into other needs they may have."

In addition to providing pet food to homebound seniors, YWCA’s We Feed Four Feet program also helps seniors with other aspects of pet ownership including assistance with spaying and neutering, getting necessary vaccines and obtaining licenses.

YWCA of Maricopa County’s meal delivery program is funded by the local agency on aging, a federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for Glendale, United Way, the city of Glendale’s funding for home deliveries, other grants and private donations. We Feed Four Feet relies on private donations to purchase bulk pet food and also partners with volunteer groups to collect pet food at pet food drives.

To learn more about YWCA of Maricopa County’s home meal delivery and other services for seniors, visit www.ywcaaz.org.