History of Meals on Wheels

For a video history of Torrance Lomita Meals on Wheels, View the Video that was broadcast on local cable.

Today’s Elderly Nutrition Programs trace their roots back to Great Britain during World War II (1939). During the Blitz, when German planes bombarded English soil, many people in Britain lost their homes and, subsequently, their ability to cook meals for themselves. The Women’s Volunteer Service for Civil Defense responded to this emergency by preparing and delivering meals to their disadvantaged neighbors. These women also brought refreshments in canteens to servicemen during World War II. The canteens came to be known as “Meals on Wheels.” Thus, the first organized nutrition program was born.

Following the war, the United States embarked on its own experimental meal program. The first American home-delivered meal program began in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in January of 1954. At the request of the Philadelphia Health & Welfare Council, and funded by a grant from the Henrietta Tower Wurtz Foundation, Margaret Toy, a social worker in Philadelphia’s Lighthouse Community Center, pioneered a program to provide nourishment that met the dietary needs of homebound seniors and other “shut-ins” in the area who otherwise would have to go hungry.

As is the case today, many participants were people who did not require hospitalization, but who simply needed a helping hand in order to maintain their independence. Most of the volunteers were high school students, who were dubbed “Platter Angels.” The “Platter Angels” would prepare, package, and deliver food to the elderly and disabled through their community. The daily delivery consisted of one nutritionally balanced hot meal to eat at lunchtime and a dinner, consisting of a cold sandwich and milk along with varying side dishes.

In an effort both to cover costs and to maintain the elders’ sense of dignity, the program charged a fee ranging from 40 to 80 cents per day based on the individual’s ability to pay. The delivery was so efficient that seniors often would jokingly complain to volunteers if the meal arrived only a few minutes off schedule. Had there been no Lighthouse program, many of the seniors would have had to remain in the hospital simply to ensure they received the nutrition needed to regain their strength. The task of identifying those who were truly in need of home delivered meals was more difficult than preparing and delivering the meals themselves.

As stated, the program was set up to help a very specific element of the community; it fed those who, without the service, would otherwise go hungry. The Philadelphia Lighthouse turned to the Visiting Nurse Society (VNS), the Philadelphia Department of Public Assistance, or hospital social services to refer potential clients who were eligible for services. These agencies were able to locate prospective participants, since the lists of names of recently released hospital patients were readily accessible to them. Another successful method of identifying eligible members was through concerned neighbors who provided the names of needy seniors in their communities.

Columbus, Ohio, was the second city in the U.S. to establish a community based meals program. Building on the model in Philadelphia, a federation of women’s clubs formed throughout the town to inform them of possible participants for the meal service. Then a group of “inspectors” from the associated women’s clubs visited the persons on the list. The inspectors evaluated whether or not the seniors had the ability to pay for the meals and charged on a sliding scale, from $.80 to $2.00 a day. All the meals were prepared by local restaurants and delivered by taxicabs during the week. On weekends high school students filled the posts.

Torrance-Lomita Meals on Wheels History

In November of 1972, a steering committee was formed by the organization of Church Women United to learn from San Pedro how to set up a local Meals on Wheels organization. On January 15, 1973 Byron and Maxine Flint drove to San Pedro and picked up 8 hot and cold meals for delivery in Torrance. For the first year, meals were cooked in San Pedro and picked up by volunteers and delivered in Torrance. We started cooking our own meals on January 14, 1974.  Eleanor Ragsdale was our first President and Kathy Runquist was the first Kitchen Supervisor. We initially cooked meals for 23 clients, delivering 3 routes with 7 stops each.

TLMOW First Location

TLMOW First Location

  • January 14, 1973 – MOW began operation at the Torrance Human Needs Center, 1543 Marcelina Ave (near Arlington  and Carson St.) and remained there for 3 years.
  • January 15, 1974 – Meals on Wheels was incorporated. The Articles of Incorporation were approved and signed by the Secretary of State, March Fong Eu.
  • During 1976, we trained Gardena Meals on Wheels to set up their own services.
  • May 21, 1976 – The operation moved to the Meadow Park Adult Center at 3860 W. 230th Street  and was there for 10 years.
  • July 12, 1986 – MOW moved to Jefferson Adult School at 21717 Talisman Ave., staying for 7 years.
  • June 14, 1993 – Temporary operation continued at Pacific Inn Restaurant at 5481 W. Torrance Blvd. for 8 months.
  • February 11, 1994 – MOW moved to the Golden West Towers, celebrating a 10 year anniversary in 2004. We had a full kitchen and volunteer staff to prepare nutritious meals in-house.
TLMOW at Kiwanis Club in Lomita

TLMOW at Kiwanis Club in LomitaJanua

  • January 10, 2005 – MOW made a temporary move to the Lomita-Harbor City Kiwanis Club. This move was required due to major renovations at Golden West Towers to bring the building up to current earthquake standards. Kiwanis graciously offered their facilities for as long as we needed them.
  • We contracted with St. Vincent Meals on Wheels of Los Angeles for preparation of our meals. They delivered to El Segundo and we picked up the meals there.
TLMOW at Golden West Towers

TLMOW at Golden West Towers

  • June 12, 2006 – Meals on Wheels moved back to the Golden West Towers, 3510 Maricopa Street, Torrance, CA 90503. We no longer had access to a kitchen and continued to outsource the preparation of our meals to St Vincent Meals on Wheels.
  • March 1, 2015 – We contracted with the Salvation Army in Redondo Beach for preparation of our meals because of the local service and fresh ingredients. They delivered meals to our location in Torrance.
Sample Meal

Sample Meal provided by St Vincent Meals on Wheels of Los Angeles

  • October 2, 2017 – Our meals are once again being prepared by St Vincent Meals on Wheels of Los Angeles. They deliver nutritious meals to our location in Torrance. Information about the types of meals offered can be found on the St Vincent Meals on Wheels website.
  • April 1, 2019 – We started a temporary move to the Torrance Church of Christ which led to a permanent move in July, 2019. Our new location at 3525 Maricopa Street is right across the street from our previous location.
  • December 19, 2023 – Torrance-Lomita Meals on Wheels moved to our new location at 1404 Cravens Avenue.  We are still completely independent but share space with HELP for Seniors.

Past Presidents of Torrance-Lomita Meals on Wheels

2020 – 2021 Mary Kessler

2018 – 2019 – Ellen Jenkins

2016 – 2017 Mary Kessler

2014 – 2015 – Jane Cash

2013 – Mary Fair

2011 – 2012 – Margaret Estrada

2010 – Gen Gorciak

2008 – 2009 – Ron Smith

2007 – Gen Gorciak

2005 – 2006 – Jerry Steele

2003 – 2004 – Gary Thompson

2001 – 2002 – Mary Helen Montgomery

2000 – John Goodyear

1999 – Gen Gorciak

1997 -1998 – Phyllis Muro

1994 -1996 – Dallas Pilliod

1993 – Janet Dales/Gen Gorciak

1991-1992 – Janet Dales

1989 – 1990 – Phyllis Muro

1987 – 1988 – Gen Gorciak

1986 – Nancy Hodges

1985 – Phyllis Muro

1983 – 1984 – Nancy Hodges

1981 – 1982 – Rita Spanbauer

1979 – 1980 – Henry Sturr

1978 – Dorothy Hubbert

1977 – Mary Stephens

1975 – 1976 – Dorothy Hubbert

1973 – 1974 – Eleanor Ragsdale

Past Board of Directors

Click on the link to view the past Officers and Board Members:

2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021