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John Lewis, the Democratic U.S. House candidate, talks with Meals on Wheels volunteer driver Ted Nyquest before the two set out to deliver meals Thursday. Lewis said the Older Americans Act, which helps fund Meals on Wheels, needs to be reauthorized to help seniors in a rural state like Montana.

TOM BAUER/Missoulian

Each day, about 250 meals are delivered to the doors of Missoula County’s homebound residents, and Thursday Democratic U.S. House candidate John Lewis joined Meals on Wheels volunteers to show support for Social Security on its 79th anniversary.

It was not the first time the Missoula native, who is running against Republican Ryan Zinke and Libertarian Mike Fellows, has volunteered with Meals on Wheels.

This winter, he volunteered in Billings.

“It was humbling to know ... the hot meal we served was probably the only meal they received that day,” Lewis said.

The Missoula Meals on Wheels program provides about 250 meals a day to homebound people throughout Missoula County, with about double that number delivered on Fridays to tide people over the weekend, program coordinator Colleen Kernan said.

In addition to a nutritious meal, recipients are able to visit with volunteers. The combination is beneficial to not only people receiving meals, but their families – who may live out of state – as well, Kernan said.

“Because they know that their folks are getting checked on,” she said.

Part of funding for the Missoula Aging Services program comes from contributions and fees from recipients, with other funding from donations, grants and federal coffers.

Less than 50 percent of the funding comes through the Older Americans Act, which Lewis said needs to be reauthorized.

He also stressed that the federal budget sequestration has hurt Meals on Wheels nationwide and that across-the-board cuts shouldn’t disproportionally impact seniors, especially in Montana, which has an aging population spread across a rural landscape.

“This is not the time to be cutting back on good programs like the Meals on Wheels program,” he said.

The program is one of many that helps seniors stay in their own homes, something he hopes to do himself, Lewis said.

Alternative living options can be expensive for families and taxpayers, he said.

“It’s about dignity, too,” he added.

Participating in programs like Meals on Wheels provides an opportunity for him to hear about the programs and needs of Montanans, Lewis said.

“It’s a wonderful program, and I’m here to listen and learn,” he said.

Reporter Alice Miller can be reached at 523-5251 or at alice.miller@missoulian.com.

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