It’s called the “Silver Tsunami” – the wave of baby boomers who are entering into their senior years across the country. This increase in the number of retired people locally has almost tripled demand placed on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Meals on Wheels branch, which is a volunteer-based and private donation-dependent program.

Stacey Yusko, Director of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Meals on Wheels, said the branch delivered approximately 32,200 meals to seniors in 2013.

“Every year we have grown by at least 11 or 12 percent. There was one year when we grew by 23 percent, so to try to keep up with that rise in demand is really challenging,” she said.

Yusko explained that 70 percent of the cost for providing the meals is borne by Meals on Wheels, which is not a federally-funded program. The only guaranteed funding it receives is from United Way. That’s why the organization relies heavily on at-large donations and grants.

In the next several years, projections show that the demand for Meals on Wheels will continue to increase at a staggering rate.

“I also think that there has been a lag-effect with the problems with the economy,” Yusko said. “People who weren’t planning on using Meals on Wheels and thought that they had everything in place found that their retirement savings had shrunk and that they needed help to actually stay home. One way is through the meal delivery service that we do.”

Meals on Wheels has grown so much that Yusko shared that she is currently searching for a bigger space to house the program. For the past 37 years, they have operated out of Binkley Baptist Church rent-free.

The local branch employs only two part-time employees, counting on the 150 volunteers who make Meals on Wheels possible.

The program is a need-based service, meaning that it is not just for seniors who cannot afford food, but also for those who are unable to prepare meals for themselves due to illness, disability, or are in a period of recovery.

Yusko explained the service helps them maintain independent living while keeping them safe at home. It also allows volunteers to connect with seniors, many of whom live alone.

“It is a funny thing, but we all hope to be in that position where we are living independently, and we can stay home if we had just a few simple services to help us. I think that is what we do. We try to keep people out of assisted living and in the homes they are used to and are familiar with.”

In a time when the nation’s social services are being stretched thin, a recent study conducted by Brown University found that those states which invest more in delivering meals to seniors’ homes have lower rates of “low-care” seniors moving into nursing homes. “Low-care” refers to adults who only a little support to stay in their homes.

This saves tax money that would be spent to unnecessarily move the low-care seniors into nursing facilities, when they don’t actually require a majority of the services.