Gas Prices a Killer for the Elderly

Gas prices are not only hurting millions financially, but it may be costing some seniors their lives.

As gas prices rise to astronomical heights -- The national average price of gas reached $4 last week -- and consumers get hit with high grocery bills, some of the nation's most defenseless are left to fight a battle: Against hunger.

This is clearly seen in nonprofit food delivery programs to home-bound seniors, such as Meals on Wheels. In these programs, oft-times volunteers deliver meals to the elderly. Nowadays, volunteers are finding it hard to afford the gas needed to make these trips.

The Meals on Wheels Association of America has seen a 58% loss in volunteers in May due to gas prices alone. "Our programs have to cut back on everything," said Enid Borden, President and CEO of the MOWAA. Now, "sometimes volunteers are only able to go out once a week or every other week.."

The one meal a day can turn into no meals a day, or a meal and frozen meal (per day). 4 out 10 seniors sit on a waiting list waiting and/or hoping to be one of the million to receive a meal each day.

It's not just meals that the elderly are missing out on. Also, there's missed or reduced human contact for seniors that are often considered "shut ins." The loss of volunteers that offer a friendly hello or can look at the health of seniors can be devastating. One Meals on Wheels program that had to minimize its senior visits was informed of two deceased senior citizens left for as many as seven days.

The recent funding loss is not simply due to individual volunteers. "When there is an economic downturn, no segment of the economy is off the hook," says Borden. Citymeals-on-wheels, which serves New York City's elderly, knows this firsthand. While donor contribution is up 13%, Citymeals has been hit by a decline in the corporate sector and special events. Bear Stearns was a major contributor, and the organization lost $500,000 in charitable contributions after the firm's troubles. "To lose a half a million dollars in the last quarter of the year, that was very tough, and that's money that will not back back," says Marcia Stein, executive director of Citymeals. "It'll take many years to recover.

And, that's what Citymeals is trying to do. Taking tips from the Barack Obama campaign, the organization is turning towards the web. Created 26 years ago, in response to the discovery that home bound seniors were forced to go without food from Thursday --Thanksgiving Day-- through Monday, Citymeals is looking for innovative ways to raise capital. "We know we have to win over a younger generation, and they're going to start off by making $12 and $25 donations."

Small and large donations are equally important in these times. Since 2007, the price of weekend meals alone has increased by $1 million. And, the charge for diesel fuel for many of the programs vans has doubled. While downsizing to a small cars or domestic vacations may be the option for many Americans looking to save during these times,says Stein, "what are the choices for older people? They don't have the option of going shopping if no meals come through, they're not going to the store because they'll be dead before they get there. All they can do is wait for someone to bring them a meal."

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