Serving up Friendship
It’s 7:30 A.M. The kitchen is already in full swing with 60 volunteers quickly packing meals assembly-line style, sealing, and then placing them into coolers that correspond to different routes. Everyone moves efficiently and with a confidence that shows they’ve done this before. Soon, more volunteers trickle in to deliver the 420 meals. They grab their clipboards with route information, load the meals, and start delivering. This is a typical weekday here at Meals on Wheels.
Recipient Services Manager Rachel Hamilton handles all the little details.
“I make notes on the clipboards which residents are out of town, who needs groceries, how many meals everyone gets, down to what their house looks like,” Hamilton says.
The clipboards are so detailed that even if you were brand new, you’d have no problem completing one of the 19 routes. But for many volunteers, who’ve carried out the same route for years, it’s second nature.
Mike Shepard has been delivering meals for the past 10 years. Once he sold his business, Shepard needed something to keep busy and decided to put his effort into Meals on Wheels.
At the first stop, Shepard ushers us in to meet who he says, “might be the sweetest woman [he] knows.” There is Alfreda German, who’s coming up on 95 years. German has been receiving meals for the past 10 years, and if it weren’t for this, she wouldn’t be living independently. Shepard knows we might be the only people she sees today, so he makes sure she has everything she needs. It’s clear he’s not only a delivery driver to recipients, but also a friend.
“The volunteers constantly go above and beyond just delivering meals. Some deliver pet food or make special trips to help with yard work or cleaning. Rain or shine, our volunteers always show,” President of Meals on Wheels, George Roberts raves.
Kimberly Sawyer, Marketing and Communications manager, says one of the biggest misconceptions is that there’s an age or income requirement to qualify, but as long as you’re home bound and in the service area, you qualify at no cost.
The program started at serving just 19 people a day but has since grown to serving approximately 295 with over 430 volunteers.
Along with volunteers, donations help make everything possible. Lowcountry Food Bank and Senior Catering donate the food each day. There’s also two big fundraisers each year—an oyster roast and gala, plus percentage nights here and there. Their work space has also been given to them rent-free, which is huge.
Right now, their big initiative is healthy meals. The food bank paired with MUSC interns to develop meals with certain nutrient requirements. Fresh fruit is served two to three times a week depending on donations received.
“We’ve been sustaining people for 31 years, but we’d like to improve their health and potentially their longevity,” Roberts says.
After serving 147,000 meals last year, it’s safe to say Meals on Wheels really does make quite the difference in recipients’ lives one meal at a time.