HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When Meals On Wheels volunteers come knocking to deliver lunch or dinner to kupuna in need, they often end up providing much more than food.
Those outreach workers can become a safety net and lifeline - when living conditions aren't exactly up-to-par.
Volunteers with both Hawaii Meals On Wheels and Catholic Charities say, during their deliveries, they've sometimes found seniors who've slipped and fallen, hoarders, and folks who are truly isolated.
Claire Shimabukuro, executive director of Hawaii Meals On Wheels, delivers food to seniors twice a month. Over the years, she's seen it all. She explains, "It's about hunger, but more than that, it's about loneliness and dignity and independence."
In some instances, outreach volunteers are finding deplorable conditions in homes because seniors don't have the strength or stamina to clean. Oftentimes, hoarding and filth become issues - as these depression-era folks get, figuratively, buried amongst their belongings.
Sometimes, Shimabukuro's visits are the only human connection seniors will have for days. "The feeling of helplessness and boredom creep in and creep in, and so, what we do is: we bring a hot meal, a nutritious meal, but we also bring daily smiles, interaction," says Shimabukuro.
But with Hawaii's high cost of living and our seniors living longer, the need keeps growing. The state's Executive Office on Aging says the wait list for its affiliated Meals On Wheels program is over 400 long.
"I know that they've had to reduce the number of home-delivered meals and congregate meals from 5 to 4 days a week," says Executive Office on Aging Director, Wes Lum. "And you know, that has a major impact on quality of life."
Outreach workers are also finding kupuna and caregivers don't know who to call for help, and then, they get desperate and wait until there's a crisis. "And so, time goes by, until they can, literally, no longer turn the stove on, and then, they'll call and say, 'Hi, you have to help me because, otherwise, I can't cook another day. I'm going to starve!'" Shimabukuro elaborates.
She says just a casual check on an older neighbor can make a big difference, in not only helping, but perhaps saving, a senior.
The Aloha United Way has a one-stop shop for seniors and caregivers to get help from and referrals to thousands of agencies, including Meals On Wheels. Just dial 2-1-1.
And here's how you can help our seniors. To donate just $10, please text 2-7-7-2-2 and put AUW in the subject line. You're invited to text multiple times to give as much as you can.