Ride on one morning delivery route with a Meals on Wheels volunteer, and you will be convinced that you are among angels on Earth. Those angels might be the 350 volunteers who pack and deliver meals to the homebound, MOW Director George Roberts or a recipient, like Jennifer Fontana, who accepts meals from people she considers to be friends and confidants.
No doubt, the friendships and the services that unfold every day with MOW confirm that despite any hardships that rise up, for anyone who is part of the MOW family, it’s still a wonderful life.
“I smile when I come to work every day,” said Roberts, who left a corporate job and has managed all of MOW’s moving parts for more than 10½ years.
There are two myths that Roberts would like to debunk about Meals on Wheels: It serves only the poor elderly and the food stinks.
MOW delivers food and other essentials to people of all ages who are housebound for reasons that vary widely. Some recipients might not be able to get to the grocery store because they just had knee surgery or a hip replacement. Others have a physical or mental disability. Meals have been delivered to people who have cancer, who have had transplants or even just need a little help after a car wreck.
“Our program is not based on age or income,” Roberts explained. “It’s not a poverty program. We don’t want to pass a house where there is a need. A lot of people won’t call because they think someone else needs meals more. We would love to serve more recipients.”
The six staff members and 350 volunteers for this East Cooper nonprofit deliver meals and other essentials to 700 people annually. On average, volunteers drive along 21 routes to deliver one to two meals to 250 people daily.
Roberts described Meals on Wheels as “a comprehensive program that covers all it can,” and, he noted, the first in the state to offer two meals a day. As of five years ago, recipients also receive fresh fruit with their meals and breakfast, if needed.
“We bring Ensure or Glucerna for those who are diabetic – even pet food,” Roberts explained. “If you can’t get out, we get it to you.
Help with tiny to-do lists, conversation, comfort and compassion also are delivered by this unique volunteer team. In addition to meals, volunteers have greeted recipients with fresh flowers, greeting cards and even the company of a friendly puppy.
“We try to have fun and bring fun to those who live alone,” said Roberts. “We are often the first to see roof, plumbing or electrical problems. We will call churches and other great groups to solve those problems. We are thankful to be there, and they are thankful we are there.”
With so much contagious gratitude, the volunteers refer to their recipients as “my people.” Together, the volunteers work like a loving family. They show up, Roberts said, “more than anyone who gets a paycheck” because they find reward and a sense of purpose through the connections they have with MOW recipients.
“I look forward to delivery day,” said Judy Newton, who delivers meals each Wednesday. “I have the morning blocked off, and I know that I’m doing this one thing that lets me forget about all the busyness. I can take my time helping others. Sometimes there is just a cooler at the door for delivery. Other times I’m greeted with an invitation to come in. It’s fun. It’s a great way to spend the morning.”
Some volunteers have been driving routes for 20 years. For others, MOW is a family affair; they deliver meals with their children or grandchildren, and their parents and grandparents drove routes, too.
The volunteers gather at Christ Church in Mount Pleasant, MOW’s rent-free home for 14 years. Roberts is proud to note that auditors estimate that MOW has been able to spend as much as $97,000 for food rather than rent each year.
In this country, approximately 5,000 Meals on Wheels programs receive government funding. MOW’s, like the one that serves East Cooper, have several sources of funding, including grant money, annual campaigns and events and generous donations.
“I was on the job one week and a guy handed me an envelope,” Roberts said. “He just wanted to make a donation. Someone once dropped off a cashier’s check for $10,000. No name, no address, no request to name a building – just a gift from the heart. There are a lot of good people here.”
“They are wonderful,” said Fontana, who has received meals for a year-and-a-half. “During the holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day – there are special meals. At Christmas time, every person in my house received a gift – even my caregiver. “
“During the summer, my refrigerator drawer was filled to the brim with South Carolina peaches,” she added. “I will never be able to say thank you enough to everyone with Meals on Wheels.”
Meals On Wheels
Christ Episcopal Church
2304 N. Highway 17
Mount Pleasant, SC
By Lisa Moody Breslin