*Note: Interviews were conducted before COVID-19 restrictions.
Two UnitedHealthcare employees waited on Shirley Bright’s front step with a hot turkey meal, strawberry dessert and milk carton, knowing it would take her a few minutes to open the door.
“Miss Shirley, it’s Meals on Wheels!” they exclaimed, as they knocked again.
Shirley struggles with mobility and chronic health conditions. She receives hot meals from the Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association’s (MIFA) Meals on Wheels program to help her get the nutrition she needs, while maintaining her independence.
“I think it's a blessing,” Shirley said. “I like the food that they bring and I'm grateful for it cause it's kind of hard, difficult to get back and forth in the kitchen when I can't hardly stand up.”
Two UnitedHealthcare Empowering Health grants aim to help Memphis seniors, like Shirley. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, MIFA received a grant from UnitedHealthcare to provide nutritious, home-delivered meals to 130 seniors in the area for one year. An additional grant offers shelf-stable and frozen meals during COVID-19, a critical need for seniors considered high-risk.
The funds boost MIFA’s mission to support vulnerable seniors and families in crisis. Almost 16% of seniors in Tennessee are food insecure, according to America’s Health Rankings. Tennessee seniors are also at a high risk for ongoing social isolation.
To help address the heightened isolation that may occur during quarantine and social distancing, the additional grant allows MIFA to boost its existing MIphone Buddy program, which connects volunteers to homebound seniors through scheduled calls. The volunteers check-in on those in need of support to help ease that loneliness and break the isolation.
MIFA understands the ongoing need to make those vital connections and currently serves more than 2,000 seniors at risk of food insecurity and hunger each weekday through its Meals on Wheels program. The UnitedHealthcare grant extends the safety net even further.
“If you have never volunteered before, you can actually see what is going on in your community you weren’t aware of. Getting out there and showing you care and having compassion for other people, that is who we are and what we do,” said Janicia Gillard, a UnitedHealthcare employee.
Janicia was among 60 volunteers from UnitedHealthcare who teamed up to help deliver hot meals to seniors across Memphis last year.
“It is sort of like that pebble that you drop in a pond where the ripples go out, and once you've delivered meals one time, I think often you want to come back and deliver again,” said Sally Jones Heinz, MIFA President and CEO. “And so, it just builds on itself.”