The 400 paper plates presented to U.S. Rep. Charlies Dent were empty, but the words written on them by clients of the Meals on Wheels program were rich with meaning.
Here's what one person wrote, for example:
"I do not get much Social Security so at least I have food to eat; this is my only meal; I am 89 and need Meals on Wheels or I can’t stay in my home; the friendly volunteers are the only people I see most days."
The Lehigh Valley's Congressman was presented with the handwritten plates by directors of the Lehigh and Northampton County Meals on Wheels programs Monday afternoon.
They want Dent to increase federal funding for nutrition programs serving older Americans.
Meals on Wheels organizations across the country are participating in the national "Don't Empty My Plate" campaign, which is asking members of Congress to end sequestration and increase federal funding for the program.
To advocate for the program, Meals on Wheels clients and volunteers used the plates to write messages about the importance of the program on their lives.
According to local program operators, the resounding message is that Meals on Wheels offers much more than just a meal. Home-delivered meals help many seniors maintain or improve their health and continue living in their own homes. They also offer something much more basic: human contact.
Meals on Wheels serves 1,500 people in Northampton County and nearly 800 in Lehigh County.
Northampton County's program gets 28 percent of its funding from the federal government and Lehigh County gets 10 percent.
The federal sequestration, which began cutting back on funding for programs March 1, has not yet hit Meals on Wheels locally, said JoAnn Bergeron Nenow, executive director of Meals on Wheels of Northampton County.
By appealing directly to Dent, "we're trying to head it off at the pass," explained Nenow.
"This is a critical service for homebound seniors and adults with disabilities in our community," said Pam Bechtel, executive director of Meals on Wheels of Lehigh County.
Nenow said Meals on Wheels is advocating that Congress allocate an additional $1.6 million for the Older Americans Act nutrition programs.
"We're fortunate that people in the Lehigh Valley support both of our programs," said Nenow. "Our programs have no waiting lists. If someone needs a meal, we'll get them a meal."