Each day, the charity feeds seniors across Grand Cayman, many infirm, most without family or support and with few resources of their own. Meals on Wheels is often the only daily contact they have. Charity founder Beulah McField says she needs $30,000 to get to the end of the year, and that the operation requires $200,000 annually.
The only good news here is that Meals on Wheels and those who rely on them are not victims of callous bureaucrats or social disconnection or a cruel world. They are the victims of financial straits.
The bad news is that it doesn’t matter what forces – be they financial, social, administrative or otherwise – have colluded to disenfranchise Cayman’s elderly. Among the yardsticks for measuring a society is how it treats its elderly. It is not the only gauge, but it is a leading indicator. And this indicates poorly.
When money is tight, everyone suffers. Prices rise, the cost of living bites harder and when everyone is fighting for financial survival, the most vulnerable are likely to suffer first.
The matter is not that people are mean and ignorant, but, equally, being busy is not an excuse.
Other societies manage to care for their elderly, although the speed of modern life makes it increasingly difficult. Traditional values among the Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Indians and among North- and Meso-American natives, reserve a special role for the elderly – as repositories of knowledge, experience and history, not unlike the elderly of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” who memorized books, passing on their contents to a younger generation.
Cayman boasts high life expectancies. Health care is reasonably good. Our society has a handful of centenarians. Nonagenarians and octogenarians are relatively common. Nearly all of us are destined to join the elderly; we should be able to look forward to family and friends as bulwarks against the debilities of old age.
It is a matter of the deepest concern that hunger should form one of the many concerns when contemplating old age. As if fragile health, declining strength and the possibility of loneliness and poverty were not enough, hunger just seems unfair and undeserved.
The irony is particularly acute in the Cayman Islands, an affluent society by almost any standard. Affluence should imply generosity and Meals on Wheels requires only $200,000 per year, a small sum for a wealthy populace.
Churches, NGOs and non-profits all have a place in efforts to ease the burden. Organizations such as the Pines Retirement Home, Cayman HospiceCare and the National Council of Voluntary Organisations all contribute toward care of the elderly and infirm. Each is nonprofit, and fund raising is a perennial effort. Our small community at times suffers from “compassion fatigue,” mitigating the impact of otherwise worthy charity appeals. While Meals on Wheels mounts an annual autumn appeal, perhaps this year it needs higher-profile exposure.
Government should not be at the top of the list, but as a last resort. The bottom line, however, is that the elderly must not go hungry. No one, of course, should go hungry, but the most vulnerable and the least able to fend for themselves are especially susceptible.
Let’s open our hearts – and our wallets.