Toyota and Meals on Wheels are working together to help end senior hunger

by Gefen Kusin-Kline, Special Contributor | December 12, 2018

The freshly prepared food Meals on Wheels regularly delivers to Ernest Ford’s home is anything but a luxury. It is a necessity. Age 68 and a resident of Plano, Ford’s mobility has been severely limited by chronic hypertension and the loss of one leg. As he says, “If it hadn’t been for Meals on Wheels, I don’t know what would’ve happened.”

Ernest Ford is not alone. According to research sponsored by the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger (NFESH) and Feeding America, one in six U.S. adults over the age of 65 struggles with food insecurity. In Texas, almost 10 percent of seniors live below the poverty line. Moreover, in Dallas County, 25,000 households are headed by senior citizens with no access to a vehicle.

As the region’s senior population continues to grow, so too do these numbers. And that presents Meals on Wheels — often the only source of adequate nutrition for homebound seniors — with multiple challenges, especially in the area of capacity. To succeed in the fulfillment of its mission, Meals on Wheels relies on an expansive base of volunteers, strong community partnerships, diversified sources of funding and effective processes to ensure those resources go where they are most needed.

“Unfortunately,” says Zella Tyson, CEO of Meals on Wheels Collin County (MOWCC), “our funding decreased at a time when we also saw an increase in the number of people who depend on our services.” To meet those needs more quickly, allocate resources more effectively and better serve their current and future clients, MOWCC recognized that they needed what Tyson calls “a game-changer.”

To that end, Toyota has partnered with two D-FW Meals on Wheel organizations — MOWCC and VNA Meals on Wheels — to feed more seniors in need of a nutritious meal, further the services that Meals on Wheels volunteers provide and leverage technology to improve health outcomes for some of the most vulnerable members of the North Texas community.

Sharing knowledge to improve processes

Toyota’s team of production experts began by bringing their process improvement know-how to the kitchen at MOWCC. Following Toyota’s recommendations, MOWCC changed the layout of its kitchen, overhauled its inventory management system and rethought its meal preparation routines. By doing so, they’ve reduced the cost of a meal by 20 percent.

“These efficiencies not only made up for our budget shortfall, but they also allowed us to extend meals to seniors on a waitlist. In effect, we’re now able to serve more people with less,” Tyson explains. In fact, that 20 percent ultimately equates to an additional 10,000 meals, meaning more people can benefit from the services MOWCC provides.

According to Al Smith, group vice president of Toyota Social Innovation, the collaboration with Meals on Wheels is a perfect example of his company’s approach to working with community partners. “Beyond contributed dollars, we believe in sharing our knowledge and resources to help affect positive change,” he says.

More than meals – leveraging technology and empowering volunteers

Additionally, Toyota is helping VNA Meals on Wheels leverage mobile technology to reimagine how the organization and its volunteers serve seniors. With their smartphones, volunteers will be able to sign up to deliver meals, manage their schedules, view their routes and send data to VNA about how their services are making a positive impact. This new technology will not only enhance the volunteer experience — it will also provide vital insights that will help area seniors age safely in place.

Specifically, the mobile platform — set to debut in 2019 — will help paid drivers and volunteers provide real-time feedback about each client’s condition and perform a brief wellness check during their scheduled meal delivery. IT consulting firm Credera is developing the technology, with generous funding provided by the Lyda Hill Foundation and Toyota. Additionally, Baylor Scott & White Research Institute’s Center for Applied Health Research has shared best practices, helping shape the methodology guiding VNA’s analysis of client health outcomes.

“The ultimate goal of these investments in mobile technology is to provide comprehensive care to our growing senior population while further empowering volunteers to make a contribution to the overall well-being of clients beyond providing a meal,” says Katherine Krause, President and CEO of the Visiting Nurse Association of Texas, the parent organization of VNA Meals on Wheels.

“Most clients receiving Meals on Wheels’ services are individuals who face both transportation challenges and in-home mobility challenges,” adds Smith. “So leveraging technology to find better ways to bring critical services to their door is vital.”

Once this software solution has been thoroughly tested and evaluated, VNA hopes to make their learnings available to Meals on Wheels organizations nationwide.

Boots on the ground

Frank Noel is a Senior Manager for the RAV4 and RX Project Management teams at Toyota. He is also one of several Toyota Production Control team members who now volunteers with MOWCC. Each week, Frank steps away from the office, gets behind the wheel and drives to visit a hungry senior in D-FW. He describes the experience as “a great way to get out in the community — especially with Toyota being so new to the area. Besides, we’re always looking for ways to help people.”

As for Ernest Ford, he is very grateful for the automaker’s strong presence in North Texas, asserting that, “Toyota [and] Meals and Wheels [are] real fine. They have taken care of me.”

Get involved

If you’re interested in getting involved with a Meals on Wheels provider in your neighborhood, please visit the Meals On Wheels America website.

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