A staggering number of senior citizens in Iowa are battling hunger. Food insecurity affects over 83,000 of them based on the latest data provided by Meals on Wheels Association of America. In Polk County alone, 9,000 are suffering from this epidemic.
Food insecurity often happens due to poverty, but is also common for people over 60. It could happen because they are unable to prepare their own meals due to issues in mobility, tremors and chronic health conditions.
On Mar. 30, 2019, people from all over the Midwest came together at Confluence Brewery in Des Moines to fight this issue.
Cold Run for Warm Meals is an annual event hosted by Iowa Chapter of the National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA). Cold Run collects donations for WesleyLife Meals on Wheels to benefit people who may not have easy access to food. One hundred and eighty-seven people participated in the event, where everyone received free sweets, refreshments and a complimentary beer. From there, 115 participants went on a 2.5 mile run along the Gray’s Lake trail in the cold, windy weather.
The run wasn’t just adults: some parents signed their kids to run as well. Amy Tagliareni from Ankeny signed her daughter up to participate.
While growing up as a teenager in Wisconsin during the 1980s, Tagliareni’s family struggled financially. Her single mother had a job, but food was still a scarce commodity. They had to depend on several organizations that donate food and other necessities to families in need.
“I know first hand how it feels like,” Tagliareni says. “I remember that feeling. So, anything you can do to help pay food for other people, in my mind, is a great thing.”
Tagliareni paid for her daughter, Erica, and also Erica’s friends to participate in the cold run. Erica was celebrating her 12th birthday, so they decided to have a birthday party at the event as well. Tagliareni set up the cake and decorations while waiting for the kids to finish their run.
“It’s an opportunity for her to have her birthday party, but also learn a lesson on giving back and paying it forward and helping people out,” Tagliareni says. “She thought it was a great idea.”
According to Bambi Press, the community nutrition manager for WesleyLife Meals on Wheels, this year’s Cold Run for Warm Meals event has the biggest turnout they have ever seen. Collaboration with NAMA helped facilitate this turnout.
NAMA is the nation’s largest organization for agri-marketing. They provide networking and skills to help to help solve agri-marketing problems in businesses. Ellie Wyatt, the president of NAMA as well the event committee has previously helped big organizations like the Iowa Food Bank.
“We wanted to find another beneficiary, so we came across WesleyLife which is a good fit,” Wyatt says. “This Cold Run event is really about being able to give money to WesleyLife Meals On Wheels that can help so many people. One registration from a participant could feed 3 to 5 people in need.”
Press felt encouraged knowing many people drove from far places for the event and joined the cause.
Christi Ransom, a participant from Adel, Iowa came to the Cold Run for Warm Meals event with her sister, Libbe Bolton who drove from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Bolton is a part of a running group, and she had a goal to be involved in a race in March.
“I saw this one and I thought it’s a good charity that they’re supporting, so I talked my sister into doing it,” Bolton says.
“Well, if it’s in Confluence, I’ll do it!” Ransom comments.
The total donation from the event was over $6,100, which will help fund the supplement of meals for adults over 60. People under 60 who still qualify for the service only need to pay around $7 to get the same benefits. Sodexo prepares the meals in WesleyLife’s kitchens in Des Moines. Every client gets one meal per day, depending on which meal they personally choose from the menu. Under special circumstances, some people do receive more than one meal. Designated drivers deliver them to their clients’ homes Monday through Friday between 10:45 a.m. and 1:45 p.m.
About 83 percent of the seniors registered in this program live completely alone.
“Our drivers might be the only person that [the seniors] see in a given day,” Press says. “We are so honored to be that lifeline for them, so that if they need a little extra help, if they need someone to call 911, it’s not unusual at all for us to encounter emergency situations.”
WesleyLife Meals on Wheels is the only non profit organization in Central Iowa that provides nutritious meals and a safety check for seniors. The organization strives to take food payment and cost out of the equation for seniors as they also need to think about paying for other things such as rent, utilities and medication bills.
Press also says that three out of four older adults that need community services like this do not receive them. This is because some of these adults are hesitant to reach out for help. Some seniors might not even be aware that this kind of service is available for them.
Cultural factors may be at play too.
“If there’s anything that I know about Midwesterners is that they are strong, sturdy people,” Press says. “They don’t like asking for help. Even when I’m trying to make sure to educate them that they’re qualified for these services, they’ll think that somebody else might need them more.”
Because of these reasons, WesleyLife Meals on Wheels always tries to collaborate with other local agencies in Polk County to find and help as many people as they can. Individuals in the community could also volunteer with WesleyLife to help resolve food insecurity even just by a bit.
“You can help by coming to an event like this when it pops up,” says Press. “There’s also a lot of opportunities to volunteer for organizations like ours, or you could just contribute some donation through our website, www.wesleylife.org.”
Photos by Daniel Helmee and Rachel Lium, Iowa NAMA.