The author’s father, Cliff Adcock (R), readies to deliver Meals on Wheels to seniors in Escondido, CA 

By Dan Adcock

At a press conference last year, President Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, infamously declared, “Meals on Wheels sounds great, [but] we’re not going to spend [money] on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people.”  Not surprisingly, the first two budget proposals Mulvaney crafted for the president would have eliminated the block grants that help to pay for Meals on Wheels.

Apparently, Mulvaney has had no personal experience with delivering meals to seniors who are unable to shop or cook safely.  Shortly after Mulvaney made his ill-informed statement, my boss, National Committee president Max Richtman, suggested that President Trump “ride with a Meals on Wheels van and witness the profound benefits to our nation’s most vulnerable seniors.”

I can proudly say that I have done something the President and his budget director clearly have not.  This month, I rode along with my father, Cliff Adcock, on his route as a Meals on Wheels volunteer in Escondido, California.  As a public policy wonk, I have always appreciated the Meals on Wheels program – first as a Congressional staffer on a committee that oversaw the Older Americans Act (which includes Meals on Wheels), then, as an advocate for seniors during the past 24 years.  In 1992, I helped write the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, which at the time enjoyed broad, bipartisan support.  My recent ride-along taught me that understanding policy is one thing – but on-the-ground experience with the program is altogether different.

My dad (a longtime Republican) started driving for San Diego Meals on Wheels last year. He says he was inspired to sign up by my mother, Eleanor, volunteering at a local hospital. I rode along with Dad on his 38-mile route during a holiday visit in December – and more recently a few weeks ago while traveling on business. I loved both experiences because the seniors who answered my dad’s knock on their doors greeted us with huge smiles and ample gratitude – not only for bringing them lunch and/or dinner – but also for what may have been their only social interaction all day.

During the journey in my dad’s 2017 Toyota Prius, I learned that delivering meals to seniors – many of whom are shut-ins – is not always easy.  While some live in the city of Escondido – others have homes in rural areas several miles outside of town.  Access is also complicated by recipients’ various disabilities.  In one rural trailer park, we delivered to a senior who is nearly deaf and unable to answer the door no matter how my times you knock or ring. We had to access a key from a lockbox in order to let ourselves inside and deliver her meals.  My Dad and I didn’t encounter her in December but got to say hello when we made our delivery this Spring.  She was very happy to see us.

Next, we were off to deliver meals to another house in an even more remote area.  The recipient was a pleasant woman with a German accent. I told her that I spoke a bit of German and used my limited vocabulary to have a short conversation in her native language.  She seemed tickled that I made the effort and thanked us for the meals.

Our last stop was a delivery to a Korean War veteran suffering from dementia.  (My dad is a Korea veteran, too).  Sometimes he arrives behind schedule at the vet’s house due to late additions to his itinerary.  If the meal comes after lunchtime, the vet becomes irritable. Fortunately, we were on time when I rode along, and found the man in good spirits.  His adult daughter was visiting that day and thanked us for bringing her father’s lunch.

At the end of our two-and-a-half hour run, we returned the food containers to the seniors center.  I thanked my dad for letting me accompany him on his route.  The ride-along re-affirmed my belief in a program that I had experienced as an advocate and policymaker, but never up close and in person. Seeing the seniors’ joy and gratitude for the sustenance and social contact we provided enhanced my appreciation of Meals on Wheels tenfold.

I wish every member of Congress, the President, and Mick Mulvaney would ride-along with the Meals on Wheels van before considering cutting a single penny from the program.  Who knows?  A hug from a grateful senior might just melt their hearts – or at least compel them to put away the budget axes they’ve been sharpening.  In fact, if they’re ever in Southern California and would like to accompany my dad on his route, I’d be happy to arrange it. 

Dan Adcock is Director of Government Policy and Research at the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.