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Program helps preserve independence for its clients

When celebrating the Fourth of July, many of us think back to the battles fought by our forefathers to create this great country or, more recently, to the efforts of today's veterans who've worked tirelessly to create safety in our world.

But how much thought do we really give to what it means to be independent? The pursuit of independence and free will is such an ingrained part of our society that we don't often think about it unless it comes under threat. Some threats – war comes to mind – are obvious and hopefully infrequent. But other threats to our independence – such as aging – are common and woefully under-discussed.

The meaning of independence changes as we age. Teenagers are desperate to get their driver's licenses, many young couples are eager for their first homes and many middle-aged individuals are planning perfect retirements.

Unfortunately, the older one gets, the more potential there seems to be for health issues, mobility problems and financial shortfalls. The goal of independence for many seniors becomes staying at home.

That's where Meals on Wheels for Western New York can help. We provide meals to more than 3,300 in-need clients each year, helping the frail and ill elderly or disabled enjoy the highest level of independence possible.

The meals that we serve – one hot meal and one cold meal each day – provide two-thirds of an individual's nutritional needs. This dramatically cuts down on the amount of shopping, cooking or post-cooking cleanup that recipients need to do, enabling many to remain in their homes.

We offer five diets, including a healthy regular option, diabetic, ground, bland and calorie-restricted. Matching the diet with the recipients' needs can help seniors avoid diet-related hospital stays (for example, when someone with diabetes has an inappropriate diet).

Meals on Wheels also provides a daily wellness check through our volunteer network.

When any client can't be reached for regular meal delivery, we are able to connect with the appropriate emergency contact to ensure that client is OK. As well, if a volunteer notices any change in health or behavior, he or she will notify our social work team so that it can follow up. This helps caregivers feel more comfortable with their loved ones staying at home.

Meals on Wheels is pleased to be able to provide more than 3,300 seniors with healthy, nutritionally balanced meals so that they can remain home and celebrate every day as an independent one.

As you celebrate your Independence Day, please take time to think about the ways that you can help the seniors in your lives best enjoy their freedom and independence.

Rachel Leidenfrost is director of strategic communication for Meals on Wheels for Western New York.