Meals on Wheels has jumped into the spotlight in the last week after the Trump Administration released its “skinny budget.” As we wrote about on Thursday, the national organization, named after its focus on bringing meals to the elderly and other homebound individuals, would see its own budget – which comes from a mix of government funding and private donations – significantly cut under the proposed new plan. But though such cuts could be devastating for the approximately 2.4 million people the program serves, the controversy surrounding those cuts also seems to have brought about at least a temporary boon for the organization.
Meals on Wheels America says volunteer signups shot up 500 percent in the 24 hours after news of Trump’s budget broke, according to the Huffington Post. And that’s on top of 50 times more online donations than the program is used to seeing – an incredible display of appreciation. “It’s been heartwarming to see this groundswell of support over the last 24 to 48 hours,” Jenny Bertolette, vice president of communications for Meals on Wheels America, told HuffPo. “Volunteers are our backbone. We couldn’t deliver meals without [them].” According to the organization’s website, Meals on Wheels America already has more than two million volunteers helping to run its “more than 5,000 community-based senior nutrition programs across the country.”
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Though this massive jump in support for the group is certainly encouraging, the impact also comes with an irony: The proposed budget cuts aren’t intended to sink Meals on Wheels entirely, but simply to reduce its reliance on federal tax dollars. In theory, this shortfall could be made up with private donations like those we’ve seen. If outrage over this plan is driving more people to volunteer for and donate to Meals on Wheels, the result may actually bolster the proponents of Trump’s budget who say the organization doesn’t need this federal funding to begin with. The whole thing is a bit of a political catch-22.
So though it’s heartwarming to see people stepping up to support Meals on Wheels in the short term, it’s also important to recognize the difference between supporting the group through donations and fighting to help the group maintain its federal funding. For those who believe Meals on Wheels is worthy of federal tax dollars, they should keep in mind that donations don’t address the whole issue.