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Frank Pacella: Safety net programs are essential

Growing up, I thought that my parents were invincible and unchanging. Hard-working Italian immigrants, Mom and Dad were always passionate and full of life. For most of his life, my father worked two jobs - the steel plant and construction - while my mother focused on the many activities of us children and kept the home in her special and caring way.
For many years, my parents lived life to its fullest. In fact, as recently as last year my mother kept a garden and canned her own vegetables and sauces; an effort my father strives to maintain.
Mom and Dad are now in their 90s and recent events have forced me to realize that neither of them is, in fact, invincible.
I think we tend to shy away from the realities of aging - perhaps because it reminds us all that the lives we live today are not necessarily the lives we'll be able to live 20, 30 or 40 years from now. But, in doing so, I think we run the risk of neglecting our senior populations. And that's a big problem.
Mom recently had major emergency surgery. While it resolved the initial health risk, it permanently damaged her heart and she is now homebound with failing health.
I feel fortunate to live close to my parents so that I can check in on them and spend as much time with them as possible. However, it's also a reality that I'm a single father with a demanding career; my sister lives over the border and makes the trek several times a week; and my brothers have serious health ailments. So, we are not too proud to think that we can do this alone.
We recently signed my parents up for home-delivered meals through Meals on Wheels for Western New York. Mom is no longer able to be the superwoman of her first 92 years and certainly wouldn't be able to manage all the aspects of daily nutrition. Also, we want to make it as manageable as possible for my Dad to spend the time remaining side-by-side with his beloved wife of 75 years.
Through Meals on Wheels, my parents receive a cold meal and a hot meal every weekday. These meals are delivered by a volunteer in the late morning and provide my parents with easy access to nutritious food without any effort on their part.
Even more important, I know that someone is checking in on my parents each day. If they don't come to their door to receive their meals, the team at Meals on Wheels will call me so that I can make sure they are OK.
I know that accepting help has been a hard transition for my parents, who have always been very proud and independent. But the kind volunteers and ease of delivery have made the transition easier than I might have anticipated.
Programs like Meals on Wheels represent a huge safety net for seniors. For recipients, meal delivery means less strain on a fragile body, a full stomach and even a connection with the world around them. And, for caregivers like me, the daily check-in provides tremendous peace of mind during a hard time - allowing me to focus on what really matters, my parents.
I encourage you to spend some time with the seniors in your life, making sure they feel loved and appreciated. It can be too easy for life to get busy and for time to slip away. Also, consider the ways that you can support organizations like Meals on Wheels that do so much to help seniors maintain independent lives at home with dignity and compassion.