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Meals on Wheels: Our donations surged after White House talked defunding

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WASHINGTON — Donations and volunteer sign-ups to Meals on Wheels surged, the group said Friday, in the hours after President Trump’s administration pointed to the public-private partnership as an example of government spending it can no longer defend.

“We received 50 times the normal amount of donations yesterday,” said Jenny Bertolette, vice president of communications at Meals on Wheels. These were donations to the national group, Meals on Wheels America. “Local programs fundraise individually, and we can assume that there was likely a groundswell of local support, as well,” she said.

The group also “saw an almost 500 percent jump in volunteer sign-ups through our AmericaLetsDoLunch.org Ad Council website,” Bertolette said.

The popular meals program for the homebound elderly serves 2.4 million seniors a year, including half a million veterans in need of food assistance and home visits.

The controversy began Thursday during the White House press briefing, in which the Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney made a guest appearance to discuss Trump’s first budget, which dramatically slashes and in many cases eliminates funding for cultural programs and social services that aim to help lower-income Americans.

“We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good,” said Mulvaney, discussing the administration’s desire to do away with a funding stream called Community Development Block Grants that are used by states to fund a variety of programs, including regional Meals on Wheels efforts.

“Meals on Wheels sounds great … but to take the federal money and give it to the states and say, look, we want to give you money for programs that don’t work — I can’t defend that anymore,” he said. “We’re going to spend money, we’re going to spend a lot of money, but we’re not going to spend it on programs that cannot show that they actually deliver the promises that we’ve made to people.”

His statements provoked a fierce backlash on social media, and 36,445 unique users engaged with the Meals on Wheels Twitter handle @_MealsOnWheels on Thursday, according to the group. It also said that tweets using the hashtag #MealsOnWheels or mentioning Meals on Wheels in association with the Trump budget poured in at a rate of about 9,000 an hour.

The group said the influx of donations would also help it to continue to advocate for regional efforts that may suffer from a withdrawal of federal funding. “It is our hope that donations will come in not only at the national level to help support our advocacy efforts during this important budget process, but also at the local level, to fill any gaps the new budget may create,” said Bertolette.

Web traffic and phone calls also surged, she said.

The national network of 5,000 Meals on Wheels programs receives 35 percent of its funding for group and home-delivered meals from the federal government through the Older Americans Act. The block grants Mulvaney cited are not their major source of federal funding.

A 2013 analysis in Nutrition and Health concluded that six of eight studies examined “found home-delivered meal programs to significantly improve diet quality, increase nutrient intakes, and reduce food insecurity and nutritional risk among participants. Other beneficial outcomes include increased socialization opportunities, improvement in dietary adherence, and higher quality of life.”

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