By Jodi Harris

The Meals on Wheels program, sponsored and operated by Horizon Family Services, does so much more than provide meals for seniors. Meals are delivered five days a week and a breakfast bag is provided on Friday for the weekend. The first goal of the program is to provide nutritious meals to seniors in need. They also give many seniors a mental health boost with a daily visit. The volunteers who deliver meals, provide a daily well-being and safety check too. If they have concerns for any of their clients, they report it to the program director who locates the client’s emergency contact and follows through to make sure the client is safe and cared for. The financial benefit is also very real for seniors on a limited income. Many Iowa seniors must choose between their prescribed medicines or the food they need to survive. Why do seniors want to stay in their homes? Financially, they may be unable to move to a nursing home or assisted living community, or they may just want to stay in a familiar environment. Did you know that the cost for care in a nursing home for one day is the same as the cost of a full year of meals for one senior?            

St. Luke’s and Mercy Hospitals had a meal program until 2002, but when the need became too much for them to handle, Horizons Family Services started the Meals on Wheels program. The program is funded by the Elderly Waiver (Medicaid), Heritage Area Agency on Aging (Older Americans Act Federal Funding), United Way, Linn County, independent and corporate donations, and special events and fundraisers that Horizons hosts. Since the main funding sources do not cover the entire cost of meals, the program is grateful for the donations received from community members to help continue vital programming.

In partnership with the USDA Summer Food Program, Horizons also has a fantastic summer meal program for children in low-income neighborhoods. The nutrition program at Horizons also serves preschool children daily. In 2016, the summer program provided over 33,000 meals for local children. Many of these kids would not have lunch, if not for the program. The on-site meals are served daily at various locations and the 2017 sites will be finalized soon.

To help provide as many fresh vegetables as possible, there are many community, corporate sponsored, and family gardens where food is grown and donated to the Meals on Wheels program. Feed Iowa First, a local nonprofit agency dedicated to combatting food insecurity through cultivating produce for donation, provides hundreds of pounds of fresh, local produce each year to Horizons’ nutrition programs free of charge. Horizons also has many raised garden beds across from their building, providing fresh asparagus and other vegetables each summer.

“Food insecurity is far more prevalent here in Iowa than many realize, and the impact of food insecurity has a negative effect on school performance, the skill level of our workforce, overall health, and life expectancy. We at Horizons work to combat these effects and end hunger every day.” Sofia Mehaffey, Horizons Family Services, Director of Community Health and Nutrition

Volunteers are vitally important to the Meals on Wheels program. There are thirty-one delivery routes that provide service five days a week. Keeping drivers staffed is always a challenge and there are also volunteer opportunities in the kitchen with meal prep, packaging breakfast bags in the pantry, and writing holiday and birthday cards to clients. If you would like to volunteer, please visit and complete a volunteer application.

To apply to receive Meals on Wheels, or to refer a friend or loved one, visit There is a short application to complete and then your application will be reviewed and approved by a licensed dietitian. Once approved, you may start receiving meal delivery. For more information you may check the website or call 319.398.3943.

*Some of the information contained in this feature came from

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