OCEANSIDE — Leaders of the San Diego arm of Meals on Wheels paid a special Veterans Day visit to Calvin O’Daniels, a 98-year-old World War II veteran, at his Oceanside home.
Meals on Wheels San Diego County CEO and President Brent Wakefield, along with volunteers and news outlets from around the region, gathered to meet O’Daniels on Nov. 10 in honor of his service to the U.S. Army during the Second World War.
At 18, O’Daniels volunteered to join the Army in 1943, right amid the war. As he went to the European theatre, his late older brother, who joined the Air Force around the same time, went to the Pacific.
When O’Daniels returned from the war, he returned to work, first at a grocery store and later as a building inspector. Originally from North Dakota, his travels eventually brought him to Oceanside, where he bought his home.
Even though he was married for a long time, O’Daniels never had his own children.
“I was too busy working and having fun,” he laughed.
O’Daniels liked to travel, having caught the bug as a soldier. One of his favorite trips happened recently when he was selected for an Honor Flight for veterans to Washington, D.C.
“I was very fortunate to be one of thousands to get the chance to go,” he said.
According to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, 119,550 of the 16.1 million Americans who served in World War II will be alive in 2023.
Each year, Meals on Wheels San Diego County recognizes one of its veteran clients with a special visit to their home. Only a handful of World War II veterans, like O’Daniels, are left.
The nonprofit organization currently delivers more than 50,000 monthly meals and serves more than 1,800 seniors daily. A third of its clients are veterans or spouses of veterans.
For over 60 years, Meals on Wheels San Diego County has fought malnutrition and loneliness, which the organization describes as two of the biggest threats to the well-being of homebound seniors.
“It’s important to make these connections with our clients during drop-offs,” Wakefield said.
As volunteers drop off meals, they can visit with the client, get to know them, and check for any differences in their conditions monitored through an app. They also provide lifesaving action in cases where the senior has fallen hours earlier and couldn’t call for help.
Volunteers have brought O’Daniels soap and other supplies, knowing he has mobility issues and doesn’t get out much anymore.
“It’s a great service for me because I’m locked in the house and can’t go anywhere,” O’Daniels said.
The organization has also partnered with the Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe to provide meals for its seniors’ pets. O’Daniels’ dog, Kori, who is 14 years old in dog years and just as old as her master, also benefits from this program.
Despite being highly independent for his age, O’Daniels has a network of Meals on Wheels volunteers, neighbors, nieces and a caregiver who looks after him.
Wakefield says one in four San Diegans will be senior citizens by 2030. While the organization can meet as much as 80% of the current homebound aging population needs in some areas of the county, there are other areas where only 5% of the need is being met.
With a growing senior population, the organization has ambitious goals to expand its reach with a new hub in Kearny Mesa that combines both its volunteer and meal hubs. The nonprofit hopes to deliver 1 million meals per year in the next two years and as many as 2 million in the next five.
As the nonprofit plans to double its clients, it also plans to double its volunteer numbers.
“Volunteers are the base of our business model,” Wakefield said. “About 70% of them are retired, so it gives them a sense of purpose.”
For O’Daniels, the special visit was exciting as people filled his home to hear his nearly 100 years of life stories, including his time serving his nation.