More than meals
To celebrate its 45th anniversary, Meals on Wheels of Metro Tulsa launches a response to the senior boom.
Rose Mary Taber receives meals through Meals on Wheels.
For 45 years, Meals on Wheels of Metro Tulsa (MOWMT) has faithfully served the Tulsa community and surrounding areas. Its mission has always been to provide nutritious meals and meaningful contact to those in our community who are elderly, disabled and homebound. It has successfully accomplished that through the generosity of numerous volunteers and supporters over the years. However, with new leadership and a rapidly changing demographic, the scope of its service will be reinvented as it launches its bold initiative, Project 2020.
A temporary stop
Calvin Moore, CEO and president of MOWMT, is the first new president of the organization in almost three decades. Moore inherited a firm foundation from longtime director Dan Rabovsky, who retired in 2014.
Tulsa was supposed to be a temporary stop when Moore came to attend graduate school at Oral Roberts University in 1999. However, 15 years later and with a résumé full of accomplishments, he has championed the advancement of numerous local causes.
Prior to joining Meals on Wheels, Moore was the director of the Tulsa Community College Foundation and oversaw a $2.5 million capital campaign to build the Nate Waters Physical Therapy Clinic in downtown Tulsa.
He is passionate about bringing a progressive business approach to traditional philanthropy endeavors.
“I’ve always loved the notion of helping not-for-profits take a more businesslike approach to their missions, because that’s really what’s going to help keep the mission strong,” Moore says.
The changing landscape of his clientele base, and the unprecedented rate with which it will occur will likely require innovative, expansive solutions.
The overall population distribution is set to shift as baby boomers reach retirement age. One in five people in the U.S. are projected to be 65 or older by 2030, according to a report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University.
This will cause a multitude of challenges if communities don’t prepare.
Additionally, a 2013 report by AARP Public Policy Institute describes an impending shortage of relatives to care for elderly family members.
As a consequence, an increasing percentage of older people will be forced to go into an expensive long-term facility, placing substantial financial drain on the health care system.
In their 2015 study, “More Than A Meal,” researchers at Brown University School for Public Health, in conjunction with the AARP Foundation, found that seniors remaining at home, out of hospitals and nursing homes, saves billions in Medicare and Medicaid costs.
In some cases, the only reason the aged are forced to leave home is because they are unable to drive. Just having their meals delivered by a service like Meals on Wheels allows some elderly citizens to remain in their own homes.
To prepare for these projected shifts, MOWMT issued a community-wide call to service. It is campaigning to increase volunteers, recipients and funds over the next five years at an unprecedented rate. In doing so, it hopes to stay ahead of the needs of the Tulsa area’s aging population.
By 2020, it hopes to achieve four objectives:
- Recruit 1,000 additional volunteers.
- Identify 2,500 new recipients.
- Raise $3.5 million per year.
- Deliver more than 1 million meals per year in the Tulsa metro area.
Though it was a collaborative effort, Board of Directors Chairman Trey Cooper believes the credit goes to one person.
“Our CEO and president, Calvin Moore, really deserves most of the credit for Project 2020,” Cooper says. “As a board, we knew there were more homebound neighbors living among us than we were currently serving. We wanted to do more. All of the elements of Project 2020 existed, but Calvin was the catalyst behind formalizing the vision and action plan.”
Although it will be a daunting task, Moore has a lot to be excited about. The initiative’s first year goals include delivering 250,000 meals and raising $1.5 million. He says MOWMT will exceed its goal of delivered meals by more than 20,000, and its annual event “Keep ‘Em Rolling Fundraising Gala” in October was the most successful to date, raising more than $358,000.
Fundraising is a vital component for Meals on Wheels because it does not receive any government funding. Every dollar it receives comes from the generosity of Tulsans.
“If you look at us on a national scale, we’re an anomaly,” Moore says. “Most Meals on Wheels actually take the majority of their dollars from government sources or public sources, and they’re scrambling now to generate that core competency of private fundraising because they don’t have it. They realize it’s a big mistake to not raise private dollars.”
MOWMT was established in 1970 through the collaborative efforts of Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry and First Presbyterian Church, according to their websites.
In the beginning, members of First Presbyterian Church of Tulsa prepared meals in the facility’s kitchen and delivered them to congregation members who were homebound or unable to cook for themselves.
Soon the service was adopted by other churches, and a small network grew. Today, 15 churches in 14 service areas, called components, serve as pick-up locations.
“Our spirit to serve really comes out of the churches because that’s really where Meals on Wheels got started,” Moore says, adding that they are working to recruit more volunteers and service centers among corporate entities and civic groups.
Maggie Cornell has helped with Meals on Wheels at Harvard Avenue Christian Church for more than two decades. It all started when she saw a request in her church bulletin for Meals on Wheels volunteers, and she has served ever since. Cornell is now the coordinator for Meals on Wheels at the church and is secretary of MOWMT’s south side component.
She credits the recipients and volunteers for her longevity with the organization.
“You get attached to all of them,” she says. “I think they really do look forward to seeing us. And the volunteers we have here are absolutely wonderful.”
Pat Connery has been a MOWMT volunteer for 34 years. She has held a multitude of positions, including packer, driver and coordinator. She is one of the coordinators of the MOWMT midtown component. She values the friendships she has made over the years with fellow volunteers.
“You feel like you’ve developed real friends,” Connery says. “I guess it’s a two-way street. I feel I’m contributing something, but I’m also getting something just being with those people.”
Capturing their youth
For more than 40 years, local church members from various congregations have been the predominant driving force behind MOWMT.
However, as the senior population explodes, Moore believes it’s vital to redefine the organization’s objectives.
To avoid overburdening the core volunteer pool — whose average age is 72 — MOWMT has worked to attract additional groups to help with its mission and diversify its volunteers.
“One of the issues I knew we were facing coming in was that we just weren’t recruiting enough young people to be involved,” he says.
Fortunately, there are local schools likeUndercroft Montessori School who have incorporated service into their curriculum.
Amanda Wilmoth instructs fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders as an Upper Elementary Guide at Undercroft. She also regularly chaperones a group on its Meals on Wheels route.
She says the school aims to turn the entire experience into a learning opportunity, like discussing navigation, streets and other insights.
“They learn valuable lessons like the cycle of life, social skills, looking in people’s eyes when you speak, talking to different generations and how to lead with kindness and by example,” Wilmoth says.
Service to others is an integral component of the Montessori curriculum.
“Food, poverty and hunger are big themes in Upper Elementary,” Wilmoth says. “We want them to care for others and care for their community.”
Since each student serves on the route for three years, most have developed meaningful friendships with some of the recipients.
“We had one lady on our route, Miss Mary,” Wilmoth says. “She was really special. She lost her dog, so the kids and a former guide helped get her a new dog, dog toys and dog treats.
“And when she passed away, we had alumni that had graduated and gone on post on her memorial page. I think most of Undercroft posted on the memorial page for this woman.”
Grayson Langham, a sixth-grader and team captain for his Meals on Wheels route, has enjoyed serving for the past three years.
“My favorite part about Meals on Wheels is helping people and giving them meals,” Langham says. “My favorite one, though, is the guy that tells us jokes.”
Evie Olson, a fourth-grader at Undercroft, is serving her first year on a route but has already learned some valuable lessons.
“I’ve learned about the grace and courtesy of elderly people and to help them,” Olson says. “And we’ve met a man without his leg, and sometimes he needs help, but he’s really nice and kind if you get to know him.”
“We tell them it’s not just about food, it’s about friendship,” Wilmoth says, “because we might be the only people the clients see all day.”
In December 2014, MOWMT expanded to residents in Bixby.
“Bixby was our first expansion in 30 years,” Moore says. “The reason is simply this: The need is growing, it’s burgeoning, it’s becoming bigger. We receive 30-35 calls a month from areas like Sand Springs, from people who want and need the service.”
Now, there are plans to expand to Sand Springs and Sapulpa next year. The organization already serves the suburbs of Owasso, Jenks, Glenpool and Broken Arrow, in addition to Tulsa.
“Even though Bixby was our first expansion in 30 years, it will not take us another 30 years to expand anywhere else,” Moore says.
While expanding geographically, MOWMT now addresses food insecurity for a younger demographic with Feed Our Future.
“Adolescents who experience food insecurity develop chronic health problems, which follow them into adulthood,” Moore says. “These problems severely affect them in their early senior years causing some to need services like Meals on Wheels at a much younger age than if they had not suffered from food insecurity.”
In November, Feed Our Future began as a high school adoption program that assists Tulsa Public Schools students who face persistent food insecurity. MOWMT’s goal is to serve 30,000 meals to more than 1,000 students over the course of each school year, according to the organization’s website.
In a survey conducted by MOWMT to determine their clients’ needs, 60 percent of recipients said the Meals on Wheels meal represented more than half of the food they consumed all day. Others reported it represented up to 90 percent of their food intake. Moore claims that statistic kept him up at night.
The new Breakfast Initiative was introduced in the summer of 2015 by MOWMT. The organization plans to provide a nutritious second meal to all recipients by June 2016.
“We wanted a slow, methodical rollout just so we could absorb it in the budget, raise some additional funds and work out some of the kinks,” Moore says. “Anytime you make a change in the program, it impacts those 1,400 volunteers out there.
“It has been a great rollout so far. The recipients just love it.”
Longtime MOWMT advocate and volunteer Sandy Brooks echoes a similar sentiment.
“Getting to deliver meals on Tuesdays, I get to see the excitement as the recipients dig through their breakfast bag looking for their favorite breakfast cookies and fruit,” Brooks says. “It’s a program that’s needed for sure.”