LA is a fantastic place to live—sunshine, glamour, a land of plenty. But right in our midst, overlooked, are thousands of people who aren’t walking the red carpet or driving around in fancy cars: they’re going hungry. And it’s not just in my city, but every city and town in America. They are our seniors, and there is an epidemic of hunger and malnutrition. I wanted to do my part in bringing this terrible tragedy to light, so I went down to St. Vincent’s Meals on Wheels to volunteer.
The place is run by a lady like no other, Sister Alice Marie Quinn. She is not only the director of the program, but she founded it, building it from nothing, and created an organization that provides meals every day, 7 days a week, for 8 different Meals on Wheels programs in the vicinity.
Sister Alice decided very early on that the meals weren’t charity, that people needed to be treated with respect and compassion. She is guided, appropriately, by the words of St. Vincent—ask the poor what they want, don’t give them what you want. So every client is treated with dignity—not only their needs but their preferences are given top priority. But with an operation this huge and this busy, how could they possibly keep it personal? My delivery driver that day, Julio, told me that when clients first sign up, they’re asked about their likes and dislikes. “If they’re only getting one meal a day,” he said, “make it something they want.” I knew Meals On Wheels did great work, but I had no idea how great—these were not hand-outs; these were individuals. They let seniors who are struggling know that they’re not forgotten, know they matter, know that someone cares.
Delivering the meals, I met some really fascinating people. The spectrum of diverse lives and situations was astonishing! I met a man who broke his pelvis in a bicycle accident in the park, another who lived in his fish store, and I even met a Hollywood legend. Carla Laemmle was a relative of the founder of Universal Studios and actually lived on the lot 14 years, appearing in the greatest horror classics of all time, including “Dracula” with Bela Lugosi and “Phantom of the Opera.” This really brought it home to me. We can’t regard our hungry seniors as statistics, as faceless numbers: they’re us; they have lives and stories that we share.
Tens of thousands people have depended on Sister Alice over the years, and we as a city, as a nation, owe her a debt of gratitude. And across the country the Meals On Wheels Association of America has helped millions more—every day. Please, find out what you can do to help end senior hunger and senior malnutrition by 2020. It’s simple, and you can do it right now. Just go to www.mowaa.org.