Each year in March, we celebrate “March for Meals” to honor the Meals on Wheels program and the seniors it serves. “March for Meals” gives us a great opportunity to explain just how vital this program is in the community, often being the critical difference between enabling seniors to age in place at home and having to move to a nursing facility for temporary or long-term care. Eating healthy is important at every age, but many people don’t realize how important proper nutrition is for older adults. As we age, our nutritional needs change and our bodies aren’t as efficient at absorbing all the nutrients we need. Poor nutrition can weaken bones and muscles, lead to undesired weight loss or weight gain and jeopardize the immune system, making seniors more susceptible to infections like the common cold or influenza, broken bones, and to developing chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. For seniors with health complications, nutrition is even more important. Living with chronic health conditions or recovering from an illness or surgery requires every bit of strength and energy that well-balanced meals can provide. By providing a nutritious meal and daily well-being check, the Meals on Wheels program helps homebound seniors maintain or regain health, remain in their own homes, and avoid premature placement into more costly health care alternatives. Catholic Charities is honored to bring nearly 250,000 meals per year to thousands of seniors throughout Cook, Lake and McHenry Counties. All of the meals are nutritionally balanced and incorporate the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Chefs and dietitians work together to ensure the meals are not only nutritious, but delicious as well. A great deal of care goes into planning the menu and ensuring that every bit of the meal will be enjoyed so that all of its nutritional benefits can be realized. Not only are meals prepared with love, but they are delivered with love. One of the key features of Meals on Wheels is the personal contact between the volunteer or staff deliverer and the participant. The daily meal delivery serves as an important “well-being check” to ensure the senior does not have urgent needs or safety concerns, and provides friendship for seniors who cannot socialize the way they once did. For some seniors, the Meals on Wheels volunteer is the only person they will see during the day. Consequently, that personal contact becomes an important way to reduce feelings of social isolation and assures seniors that someone is there for them. Many of Catholic Charities’ volunteers have been with the program for years and form special bonds with the seniors on their delivery routes. Even for seniors who have family nearby, a caregiver’s own work and family obligations often prevent them from preparing and delivering daily meals. Having someone check in with their loved one each day and provide a nutritious meal is often all that is needed for the senior to remain in his or her own home. For many grateful caregivers, the Meals on Wheels program is an incredible blessing that makes it possible for them to care for their loved ones themselves. During this month’s “March for Meals” let us commit ourselves to supporting the Meals on Wheels program. Please consider becoming a volunteer or making a donation to this vital and cost-effective program that preserves the health and dignity of our seniors, while enabling them to remain in their own homes and communities where they most want to be.