Since January, the number of seniors who reach out each month for meals has increased on average by 25 to 33 percent compared to 2021 and 2020.
“Food cost inflation and gas prices have had an enormous impact,” said Jenny Purcell, director of Meals on Wheels in Chester County.
The non-profit organization is headquartered in West Town near West Chester.
“We have 13 different food suppliers from which we buy meals in the county. We use many different restaurants because it is a very large rural county.”
Almost a third of Chester County is permanently preserved, and much of the privately owned landscape remains undeveloped as well – from woodlands and wetlands to equestrian fields and rural agricultural pastures.
“Every caterer charges a different price,” Purcell said.
“One of our food providers has doubled its cost to us, and many other providers are increasing meal costs this year as well,” she said. “They believe in our cause and in helping the elderly in the community but are struggling with a lack of supply chain and increased food and distribution costs.”
She said the average meal cost was $4.89 in 2022 to deliver Meals on Wheels to those in need. In contrast, the average cost of a meal was $4.13 in 2022 and $4.61 in 2021.
The effect hits the elderly.
“Older people on lower incomes struggle more with their expenses,” Purcell said.
In 2021, only 39 percent of customer contributions to meal costs covered food expenses, which is down from 45 percent in 2020. Clearly, she said, seniors have to pay rent, medical bills, and prescriptions first — and food often comes in the end.
Seven months into 2022, Meals on Wheels of Chester County served 94,167 meals to 834 people.
In 2021, the nonprofit provided 93,088 meals to 750 people, Purcell said. 93 percent of those served were people over the age of 60.
“In 2020, we served 84,145 meals to 691 people,” she said.
On average, Meals on Wheels of Chester County serves 380 to 400 people per month, according to Purcell.
This number is significantly higher than the previous two years.
In 2020 and 2021, Meals on Wheels of Chester County served approximately 300 to 320 people per month.
The number of people who reached out to Meals on Wheels for food this year compared to 2021 and 2022 increased by as much as 33.3 percent per month in Chester County.
Purcell noted that 540 people volunteered today to support Meals on Wheels in Chester County.
Heidi Carlson is the deputy director of the Chester County Department of Aging Services.
“The average department calls 32 a day, but the reasons for the calls vary—help with benefits, food, referrals for services (etc.),” Carlson said.
“If seniors call about food insecurity, the department refers callers to the Chester County Food Bank, local food banks, Meals on Wheels, and major centers across the county,” she said.
Last year, the Chester County Department of Aging Services provided 88,206 meals to seniors through contracts with Senior Centers and Meals on Wheels.
“So far in 2022, we served 36,215 meals to seniors,” Carlson said.
“Our United Way serves two functions – fundraising and fundraising,” said Terry Fodry, chief executive of United Way in South Chester County.
On the fundraising side, we are well aware that we are seeing turmoil in our financial markets. We are preparing for the potential negative impact, but believe that any decrease in overall charitable donations will be mild.”
United Way is located in the county of South Chester in Kennett Square.
“Our donors join us in our mission to provide local nonprofits with financial support and ensure that their contributions move people from crisis to independence. This makes for a strong community,” said Fodere.
On the money distribution side, he said the nonprofit wants the public to know about gifts to the United Way of Southern Chester County that affect 18,000 residents of Southern Chester County each year.
“The most effective and efficient way to donate to charity in our community is through the United Way,” he said.
In June, the inflation rate in the United States was 9.1 percent. This broke the record previously set for 40 years. In short, Americans are paying more for necessities and luxuries than they have been paying since 1981.