Martha Daniels moves at a slower pace these days—the pains of growing older and lingering back problems have that effect. Though she slowly steps through her two-bedroom apartment in west Houston, her voice and laughter fill the halls. At 62, she’s a vivacious woman who shares stories with anyone who will listen.
She’s part fighting New Orleanian, a Louisiana native who was displaced after losing everything to Hurricane Katrina, and part humble Texan, a woman who’s thankful for each breath she takes and meal she eats.
Because the way Martha Daniels sees it, she wouldn’t be alive after suffering a heart attack if it wasn’t for Meals on Wheels, a program that feeds and assists millions of older Americans in need.
It’s one of the programs that would suffer under President Trump’s proposed budget, which aims to cut funding to education, environmental protection and the housing department, which includes the community development block grants that help fund Meals on Wheels programs across the United States.
Those cuts could impact the Houston program’s $8.5 million annual budget, more than half of which comes from federal funding, to help feed 4,000 seniors each weekday, spanning from Katy to Baytown, Galveston to The Woodlands. It’s troubling news for a program that hopes to expand its reach and help more seniors.
We are closely monitoring the @POTUS budget discussion for its impact on city programs. Meals On Wheels funding in jeopardy.— Sylvester Turner (@SylvesterTurner) March 22, 2017
Sonya Harrison doesn’t deal with policy or crunching numbers. She’s been on the streets delivering meals the past three years for Meals on Wheels. Harrison has a kind voice and doesn’t complain when hauling ice chests full of food to her truck. She’s at the Meals on Wheels office every weekday at 7 a.m., prepping bags filled with milk, bread and other food staples, or loading the hot box in her truck with the day’s meal.
On a warm Thursday morning in Midtown, Harrison is one of over 30 volunteers working to get the delivery trucks on the road. Harrison stacks five ice chests filled with hot food on a dolly—the day’s menu is glazed ham, northern beans and spinach—and hauls the load off to her truck and places it in a heat warmer so that the food is still hot on delivery.
Harrison figures she’s driven more than 50,000 miles on delivery runs and delivered north of 80,000 meals through the years. She has a calling to volunteer, a woman whose motto is: “We’re more than a meal delivery. We’re sometimes their eyes, we’re sometimes their ears, we’re sometimes their voice.” Altogether, she has 25 years of volunteer service in Houston with the city, various community centers and Meals on Wheels, which holds a special spot in her heart.
“At the end of the day, it’s delivering that meal and making sure the person is going to be OK,” Harrison said.
So it pains her when she hears the fear from seniors who worry that the proposed cuts could mean their last meal might be days away.
“I tell them to think positive,” Harrison said. “I’m going to be out here to see you next year and the year after and the year after.”
Daniels worries, too. She depends on the specific meals she receives each week that help manage her diabetes. Sitting in her lounge chair back in her living room, two months removed from her heart attack, she's back to telling stories—including how Meals on Wheels saved her life.
It wasn’t the food that saved her—although she’s unsure how she would eat at times if it weren’t for the frozen meals in her freezer—but a caseworker who happened to stop in for an annual evaluation.
Benita Bailey walked into Daniels cozy apartment and found Daniels sitting stiff in her lounge chair. The usual talkative Daniels didn’t have much to say, Bailey recalls, other than she wasn’t feeling well. Bailey noticed Daniels wasn’t breathing normal and was sweating—far from the upbeat personality Bailey had come to know. It turns out Daniels was suffering from a mild heart attack and, as a doctor later told her, if it she hadn’t made it to the hospital she might not have lived through the night.
“If she wouldn’t have checked on me, who knows who would have come,” Daniels said.
So she's puzzled by the president's proposed cuts. The feisty New Orleanian is quick to give the president a piece of her mind.
“I would be happy to tell him he needs to concentrate on people who can’t help themselves,” she said.
And she isn’t afraid to stand up for the program that saved her life.
“He better not take Meals on Wheels from me, because I’ll have to fight him,” she said.
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