For the first time in U.S. history, older people are projected to outnumber children. The year 2030 will mark this important demographic turning point according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 national population projections. By then, all baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1965) will be older than age 65.

This fact alone, plus the fact that many of the older population live miles from their family members and rely on local services, drives our mission.

Seniors represent a growing segment of the hunger crisis in America. There are nearly nine million seniors facing the threat of hunger today and by 2050 this number will be nearly equal to the populations of our country’s four largest cities combined. What is more, one in four seniors live alone with one in five reporting feelings of loneliness.

In Beaufort County, 15 percent or 28,814 of the population are seniors, 33 percent or 9,509 of those seniors are living alone.

Meals on Wheels, Bluffton-Hilton Head locally addresses three of the biggest threats to our seniors and others who are homebound, inadequate nutrition, isolation, and safety. The volunteers deliver much more than a meal. They provide the safety check, a warm smile and friendly conversation, that enables those we serve to remain in their own homes, where they want to be.

Nutritious hot meals are delivered Monday through Friday, and one frozen meal for Saturdays by approximately 140 dedicated volunteer drivers. We rely on caring volunteers, who use their own vehicles, and pay for their gas and related vehicle costs to ensure clients receive daily meals. Each visit includes a wellness check and provides an opportunity to prevent social isolation, an important part of our mission.

By the end of 2022, over 36,000 meals will be delivered compared to 18,463 in the 2019 COVID outbreak. With the growing price of food, this outreach to fight food insecurity faced by our most vulnerable neighbors is more critical than ever.

The need will continue to grow in our community. We know there are more people out there that need these services.

In 2021, 84.5 percent of clients were 71 years of age or older, and 58.2 percent were female. Meals are provided to 38 veterans. Clients living alone account for 105 clients, and 139 had an annual income of less than $23,000. Clients self-identifying as white- Caucasian account for 64.5 percent of our clients, and 35.4 percent of clients are black-African, multi-racial or choose not to self-identify.

Meals on Wheels saves billions of dollars in Medicaid, health, and long-term care expenses. In fact, for every $1 invested in Meals on Wheels, we save up to $50 in Medicaid spending. The Bipartisan Policy Center ran the study with the help of Ananya Health Innovations, a health policy consulting firm, to determine how a meal-delivery benefit would affect Medicare.

The future presents several challenges. Adjusting meal offerings to represent culture, heritage, age, and dietary needs is one of the goals to better serve the clients.

Meals on Wheels, Bluffton-Hilton Head continually appraises the quality of the meals, the service, and the expanding needs of the clients.

For example, locally and nationally, personal care and combating loneliness are real threats to this population’s well-being.

Our goal is to support the whole person, ensuring that every senior and homebound resident in our community has a chance to live a fully nourished life, with independence and dignity, for as long as they are able.

Meals on Wheels, Bluffton-Hilton Head has served the local community since 1979, and we serve all prospective clients, free from discrimination and regardless of their ability to pay for meals.

Lili Coleman is executive director of Meals on Wheels, Bluffton-Hilton Head