The priceless value of Meals on Wheels

Once a week, our 22-year-old son with developmental disabilities participates in a great mitzvah — he helps deliver food to the home of an elderly client of the Culver City Meals on Wheels (MOW) program. This gives the Meals on Wheels client a chance for some unconventional companionship as well as a nutritious meal, and it gives the adults with developmental disabilities the chance to be of service, instead of always being the recipient of someone else’s charity.

Volunteering with MOW is part of our son’s community-based day program at ETTA, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit affiliated with OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services. ETTA adult participants go out with staff members in small groups and rotate through various community service options, which include running a café at the Westside Jewish Community Center, helping with the student store at Shalhevet High School and volunteering at the National Council House, in addition to the MOW activity.

It truly boggles my mind that these programs, and the other 91 MOW programs in Los Angeles County, many affiliated with churches or local community groups, now face an uncertain financial future under the proposed Trump administration budget.

As part of the overall reduction in nonmilitary domestic spending, that budget eliminates two community development block grants received by states and cities, which, in turn, provide funding to many local Meals on Wheels programs. Because MOW is a network of thousands of independently run groups that receive different amounts of money from states and cities, it is unclear exactly what will happen in Los Angeles County. But if those block grants are gone, there will be less money for this lifeline program. Another big cut could come from the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program, operated by the Department of Health and Human Services, which is set to receive close to an 18 percent cut. Until all the details are known, it is unclear how these proposed federal cuts will affect Meals on Wheels programs in the region, but experts tell me there will be real human consequences.

I recently had the chance to hear Sister Alice Marie Quinn, founder and executive director of the St. Vincent Meals on Wheels Nutrition program, speak as part of its 40th year anniversary outreach. With a professional education as a registered dietician, Quinn came to Los Angeles originally as the assistant director of the dietary department of St. Vincent Medical Center. She realized that many poor and elderly people who lived near the hospital were not eating right, and she decided to help them by making stew for 83 seniors at a local church hall one evening in 1977. Over time, that program grew, becoming St. Vincent Meals on Wheels, which now is the largest Meals on Wheels program in the country, feeding close to 3,500 people a day.

She explained that MOW in America was modeled on a British program started after World War II, when many seniors couldn’t get out of their homes to go grocery shopping because their neighborhoods had been bombed so heavily. The British used hot bricks to keep the food warm on the journey from the central kitchen to the clients’ homes.

As good-humored as she is inspiring, Quinn talked about her fundraising strategy. She said her order, the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, was founded in 1833 to help poor people in Paris. In order to fund their work, the founders asked the French royalty for donations.

“So, in Los Angeles, I decided that meant I needed to go to Hollywood,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.

Her latest celebrity connection is musician LL Cool J, who is working with the “Lip Sync Battle” TV show he hosts to help her raise funds. Although St. Vincent Meals on Wheels’ current budget of $7.6 million is privately funded by donations from a “robust direct mail” annual campaign, along with foundation and corporate grants, it still would be impacted by any government cuts, as other, smaller MOW groups more dependent on government funding would have to reduce their services, leading to more referrals and clients for St. Vincent MOW to serve.

Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles (JFSLA) annually provides 9,500 homebound seniors and disabled adults with nutritious kosher frozen meals, which are microwavable and easy to prepare. This program, which gets significant funding from the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program, would be hurt by the proposed government cuts. As Nancy Volpert, JFSLA’s director of public policy, said of the proposed cuts, “At the end of the day, less government funding will translate into fewer meals served.”

And as Quinn pointed out, “Sometimes the visits are even more important than the meals,” as volunteers or staff have the chance to interact daily with the elderly or disabled client and can observe if other medical or social services are needed.

For my son and his friends at ETTA, those weekly visits are as empowering for them as they are essential for the MOW clients.

MICHELLE K. WOLF is a special needs parent activist and nonprofit professional. She is the founding executive director of the Jewish Los Angeles Special Needs Trust. Visit her Jews and Special Needs blog at

Special day for special needs

“Do you want to start or should I?” asked Shlomo Meyers, the more brazen of the two. His bashful wife, Danielle, gave him the go-ahead. 

“Why is it always me?” he laughed, but continued without hesitation. “We met two years ago, at camp in Pennsylvania.”

Typical to Orthodox relationships, it was a matchmaker who coordinated the meeting between the two. Today, more than four months after their wedding, Danielle and Shlomo are your typical 20-something Orthodox couple living in the Pico-Robertson area. She wears a head-wrap, and he wears a yarmulke

What separates them is the fact that they both have Down syndrome.

Historically, individuals with the genetic, chromosomal condition have been discouraged from pursuing romantic relationships. However, ETTA, a nonprofit that provides a wide spectrum of services for Jewish adults with special needs locally and offers direct support to the Meyerses, takes a different stance. 

“We support individuals to their fullest potential, and for those individuals who are prepared for marriage, we think it’s a wonderful idea,” said Michael Held, executive director of the ETTA Center in Los Angeles.

Both Shlomo and Danielle are assisted by ETTA life coaches who help them with day-to-day tasks that include household chores (such as cooking and cleaning), money management and appointment scheduling. 

“We have each other to help out, but of course we have to have somebody with us for some certain things — and I can’t say I don’t need it — but things I don’t need help with, I can get the help with my wife or my family,” Shlomo said.

Jason Druyan, an ETTA life coach who works with the couple, said he wants the newlyweds to be self-sufficient, so he doesn’t smother them with assistance. Instead, he helps them when absolutely necessary. 

“It takes a few minutes longer, but it’s better for them,” he explained.

Danielle and Shlomo are surrounded by support, whether it comes from ETTA, Danielle’s parents (who live two blocks away) or their local shuls (Aish HaTorah and Young Israel of Century City).

And both have jobs in the Jewish community, Shlomo as a physical education assistant at Maimonides Academy and Danielle as a preschool aide at Yeshiva Aharon Yaakov Ohr Eliyahu Academy. Both worked last year at ETTA’s summer day camp for Jewish teens and young adults with special needs, and Danielle — a certified Zumba instructor — hopes to teach classes at ETTA facilities in the near future.

When Shlomo first saw Danielle, he remembers thinking she looked like an angel.

“To me, she looked like a princess too,” he said. “When she was coming up, I was like, ‘Oh my God, is that for me?’ It turns out, it was.” 

After they met at camp in Pennsylvania, they returned to their respective cities — Chicago for him and Los Angeles for her. They dated for two years before sealing the deal. 

“I have to live far, far away from my own family,” Shlomo said. “It is hard to move away from your family. It’s bittersweet.” 

But maintaining a long-distance relationship was difficult for the two of them, who were constantly calling each other. While working at a school in Chicago, Shlomo was on the phone with Danielle when he heard an announcement over the intercom indicating he was needed in the office. 

“And then I thought, ‘Hello? I’m on the phone!’ ”

Eventually, he realized he had to take their relationship to the next level. As for his eventual proposal, Danielle had no idea it was coming. Last October, during the weekend of her grandfather’s second bar mitzvah, Shlomo finally popped the question.

“My parents took me to this park and that’s where Shlomo met me and he asked me to walk with him,” Danielle said. “I sat on a bench, and then he sang me a song out of nowhere!” 

The song — written by Shlomo — was called, “That’s My Girl Danielle.”

Eight months later, they were married at the Warner Center Marriott Woodland Hills, surrounded by hundreds of friends and family members. It was a hot June day, but they both agreed it was the best day of their lives.

When asked what makes Shlomo a good husband, Danielle responded, “Just being there for me when I need it.” 

Shlomo had high praise for his wife and married life, as well: “She’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said. “I know there is someone who tries to understand me. And she’s doing the best she can. Neither of us can do more than try.”

Just months into marriage, they’re already getting the hang of things. They even had some advice for others looking for love.

“Find someone fun to be with,” Danielle said. 

When asked for another tip, she paused for a couple of moments, and then Shlomo jumped in. 

“Should I try to help you out?” he asked. “Sometimes it’s hard to figure out things alone. That’s why I think we have each other — to help out.” 

Moving and shaking

Etta Ohel celebrated its 20th anniversary at its annual gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel that honored a number of local contributors to the organization that provides services to people with special needs.

Michael Baruch, founder of Baruch Enterprises, received the Visionary Award in recognition of his longtime support for Etta. Michelle Wolf, a special needs parent activist, nonprofit professional and Journal blogger, was honored with the Professional Leadership Award at the Dec. 17 event. 

Additional honorees included Liebe Geft, director of the Museum of Tolerance, and her husband, Ivor, a Cedars-Sinai Medical Center cardiologist. They were named Etta’s Champions. 

Moishe Bienenfeld, a young man who is diagnosed with autism, was honored with the Young Leadership Award.  

State Assembly members Richard Bloom and Adrin Nazarian, L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, L.A. County Democratic Party chair Eric Bauman and state Senate candidate Robert Hertzberg were among the attendees. Comedian Mark Schiff served as emcee.

Hollywood talent manager David Lonner has been named to the board of Friends of Yemin Orde (FYO). The organization raises money to support the Yemin Orde Youth Village in Israel, which is home to more than 500 children from around the world, and Yemin Orde Educational Initiatives.

“By giving children a connection to their roots and a safe and loving place to be educated and nurtured, Yemin Orde has produced exemplary citizens for the State of Israel,” Lonner said in a statement on the FYO Web site. 

Lonner, founder of management and production company Oasis Media Group, was voted unanimously to the lay leadership post during the FYO December 2013 biannual board meeting in West Palm Beach, Fla. 

He brings experience working with Hollywood power players, including J.J. Abrams (“Star Trek”), along with a passion for Israel, to the position. Lonner’s past efforts on behalf of the Jewish state include co-financing programs with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles taking Hollywood professionals there on trips. 

Friends of Israel Defense Forces Young Leadership regional board member Michele Stone and regional president Aaron Leff. 

Last month, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) drew hundreds of young professionals to its seventh annual Young Leadership gala and raised nearly $300,000 in the process. 

The Dec. 14 event at the Park Plaza Hotel drew FIDF Young Leadership Los Angeles chairman Ari Ryan; FIDF Los Angeles founder Leo David; FIDF Western Region Executive Director Miri Nash and FIDF Young Leadership Los Angeles president Aaron Leff. Additionally, David Siegel, the consul general of Israel in Los Angeles, attended. 

Established in 1981, FIDF supports Israel Defense Forces soldiers currently serving in the military as well as the families of fallen soldiers. The Young Leadership division of FIDF Western Region helps with that mission, organizing programs for young professionals. 

Moving and Shaking acknowledges accomplishments by members of the local Jewish community, including people who start new jobs, leave jobs, win awards and more, as well as local events that featured leaders from the Jewish and Israeli communities. Got a tip? E-mail it to