Harold Ray is 79. He’s lived alone since his wife went into a nursing home about a year ago, and he doesn’t get to see her often. “I don’t get out too much, really. And when I do go I have to go in a wheelchair or a walker. That’s no good, you know,” Rays says.
“It’s been quite a while. We’ve been married 57 years, so you know what kind of impact that’s had on me,” he says, and laughs. “She always did my cooking and the house cleaning.”
The reason his wife did most of the housework is because Ray has a rare, incurable disease eating away at many of his nerves. “I could cook a meal, but I’m crippled in my hands and my feet and legs, so I have problems – I have problems opening a can of food and stuff like that,” he says.
The disease is called Charcot-Marie-Tooth, and it’s hereditary. “My mother had [it], and I got it, and I got a younger brother, it’s working on him now. And I’ve got a couple older brothers that’s already in wheelchairs,” Ray says.
About a month-and-a-half ago, Ray started getting meals delivered to his home in Ypsilanti, Michigan. “They bring me a hot one for lunch and a cold one for later on in the afternoon and all the goodies that goes with it,” he says. “It’s been great.”
When Rolling Stone reached Ray by phone on Friday, he hadn’t yet heard about President Trump’s proposed elimination of Community Development Block grants, which fund Meals on Wheels programs around the country, among other things.
“I don’t listen too much to what he says, be honest with you,” Ray says. Trump had been in Ypsilanti the day before for a meeting with auto executives.
Ray didn’t go to see him, but he says if he had the chance to talk to the president, or his budget director Mick Mulvaney, “I’d tell ’em, ‘Cut something else.’ I mean, there’s gotta be a lot of things that could be cut, instead of making it rip-off the old people, you know?”
Ray is one of the 2.4 million seniors served by the program, which delivers meals to the sick and homebound around the country.
Sixty-five-year-old Jane Philo-Bisaccia, also from Ypsilanti, is another. Her doctor arranged for her to start receiving meals when she left the hospital following a hip surgery nine months ago. It’s a good thing, too, because a few months later she slipped and dislocated that hip. Four months after that, she had another fall, shattering the bone above her knee. “I’ve been pretty housebound,” she says.
She gets two meals a day through Meals on Wheels. “At first I was just getting the one meal a day, and then one of their delivery people said, ‘Is that enough for you?’ I said, ‘Well, you know, I don’t want to be greedy!’ She says, ‘Don’t think of it that way! It’s there for you to use. It’s set up for that purpose.'”
Roughly a third of the Meals on Wheels budget, or $517.3 million, is derived from federal funding. Outlining the cuts on Thursday, Mulvaney said the program was “just not showing any results.”
Philo-Bisaccia, for her part, sees results. Losing access to it, she says, would be “a really big problem.”
“I don’t know what I would have done without them,” Philo-Bisaccia says. She thinks for a moment. “I have a friend that does do some quick shopping for me for basic items. I’d probably just pick up some Stouffer’s dinners and try to make do that way,” she says.
According to the nonprofit, the cost to deliver meals to a homebound senior every day for a year is roughly equivalent to the cost of a single day’s hospital stay. John Gaul, a 91-year-old Meals on Wheels recipient in San Francisco, says the program has helped keep him out the hospital.
“I’m on blood thinners now,” Gaul says. Before he signed up for Meals on Wheels, he was going to the hospital every two to three weeks for blood tests. He says having regular access to balanced meal changed that. “I go now once a month. It’s very impressive to me,” he says.
Without the program, “I’d go back to not eating correctly, and I would have to go to the doctor more often,” he says. “It would disturb me, psychologically. Because Meals on Wheels are my support system in my old age. It’s simply that.”
Gaul, who gave architectural tours around his city until just a few years ago, when he had a bad fall inside an old building, explains the daily visit is nearly as critical as the food that comes with it. “I leave my door open, and he puts [the meals] on my walker and says, ‘Good morning, John!’ And I look up, and he’s smiling,” Gaul says. “Meals on Wheels delivers more than food, they deliver companionship and friendship five days a week. I think that’s vital for people who are shut-ins or semi-shut-ins. That’s our visitor. Food and friendship and pleasantness. It’s more than food.”