The way Meals on Wheels CEO Jennifer Steele sees it, nonprofit organizations should think and act more like Silicon Valley start-ups rather than dusty old organizations that are risk-adverse and haven’t changed in decades. They need to be creative and innovative, she says. Tomorrow’s challenges can’t be solved using yesterday’s solutions.

“We’re trying to transform what the future looks like for seniors,” Steele says. “We’re trying to solve big problems and change big systems, and the only way to do that is to be creative and innovative.”

That’s why the organization sees itself as “Much more than a meal.” That's also why the organization has an entire department devoted to finding new and innovative ways of improving the way seniors live and are served. The department is constantly working on new ways to address how we serve the community. We began working with corporate partners so we can serve fresh food such as salads, and create apps so seniors can order food rather than struggle getting groceries. We are even addressing larger health issues by utilizing food as medicine.

That's just a start. Here are some of the other recent innovations brought on by the organization:

Food Truck

Times change, and so do the wants and needs of our seniors. Today, instead of going to a large room for their congregate meals, seniors like to gather in different places and different spaces. Maybe it's a park or outside of a venue where there's music playing and people gathering. And who can blame them? No one likes going to the same restaurant all the time. We all want a change of scenery and environment.

We recognized this and found an innovative way to meet the people where they are. Our idea: a food truck.

It's a new variation of "meals on wheels," and one we really like. With the food truck we can go anywhere there are seniors, serve the meals hot and prepare them one at a time, which is healthier and easier for the seniors.

food truck

food truck

food truck

food truck

Bringing the Grocery Store to Seniors

Getting to the grocery store is a real difficulty for many seniors, particularly during the pandemic. We wanted to help, and so we partnered with Food Forest, an easy-to-use app allows seniors to purchase nutritious, locally sourced food. They can do this from the comfort and safety of their own homes and have the groceries delivered right to their door. Food Forrest also permits low-income seniors to use their EBT or SNAP benefits. Talk about convenience!

BACPay it Forward with Pie

Every nonprofit organization leans on fundraisers as one means of generating the financial resources required to fulfill their mission. Always wanting to try new approaches, we decided to create something, well, fresh, a fundraiser that could engage the entire community and one that clearly spoke to our mission. Hence, Bust a Crust! was born. This tasty fundraiser allows people and companies to purchase holiday pies for Thanksgiving and all the proceeds help feed local seniors. Check it out the sweet details.

Adding a Little Comfort that Makes a Big Difference

Let’s face it: It’s hard to feel comfortable in your home if you struggle with adult incontinence, as many seniors do, and you can’t afford the products to help manage it. This is why we teamed up with several organizations, including Sweet Cheeks Diaper Bank, to provide incontinence products to the seniors we serve. We call it the “Fly & Dry Basic Needs Bank,” and it’s yet another reminder that it’s often the smallest things that make the biggest difference.

Using Technology to Be Sure All is OK

When the COVID-19 pandemic first struck and many seniors were basically stranded at home, we worried about the welfare of those seniors we weren’t already checking in on by virtue of our Meals on Wheels service. So we turned to a web-based platform, called Mobilize, that had traditionally been used for political communications. Our innovative use of an established technology allowed volunteers to make check-in calls from their homes to seniors throughout our service area. These calls helped uncover dozens of seniors who needed our services—or those of other organizations—and we set about to get them what they needed.

Friendship Ranch

Today’s senior housing options are mostly limited to two extremes: living in a single-family home or, on the other end of the spectrum, in a large retirement community. Both have their challenges, from safety to social isolation. That's why we partnered with housing developer Abode Advantage to pilot “Friendship Ranch,” a housing program in which eight seniors shared a large home.

Two cohorts of seniors, all over the age of 60, lived in the home for six weeks. The concept allowed older adults to build a true home together, with the benefits of built-in accessibility and the advantages that come with safety in numbers. Participants lived interdependently, drew on one another’s strengths and worked together to explore the challenges and opportunities that shared housing presented. In the spirit of creativity and flexibility, they determined the best way to approach daily living and its many elements, including meals, entertainment and housekeeping.