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May 31, 2024

Nutrition Delivered: Meals on Wheels Takes Care of Our Neighbors

Cheryl Ricer

Photography By

M.Kat
At Meals On Wheels, we are working with Hilton Head Island Safe Harbour to do a Fun Friday once a month. Our clients and their clients get together to play games, have lunch, and enjoy a dessert, which they love.

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Becky’s parents are in their 80s and both are in the early stages of dementia. They are also housebound and unable to prepare their own food. While Becky (not her real name) gets them dinner in the evenings, she relies on Meals On Wheels (MOW) to drop off a healthy lunch and check that they are doing OK. As a result, Becky gets a little peace of mind.

Harold (not his real name) has both legs amputated and lives alone with his dog. Formerly, friends would occasionally take him to the grocery store, but that’s no longer an option. The one meal he receives daily from MOW is in his words “a godsend.” 

Lindsey and Jerry Van de Rydt volunteer because they enjoy giving back to their community and it’s something they can do together

The mission of MOW is to provide a hot nutritious meal and a reassuring knock on the door to the Lowcountry homebound, elderly, and others in need five days a week, plus a frozen meal for the weekend. Senior Citizens Incorporated (SCI), an organization based in Savannah, delivers  about 200 meals a day every Monday through Friday to MOW Bluffton-Hilton Head. 

An SCI staff nutritionist ensures that all the meals are medically tailored, nutritional, and diabetic-friendly. The hot meal consists of a protein, a starch, and a vegetable or fruit, a drink, and a dessert. For the frozen weekend meals, MOW has partnered with SERG Signature Catering, which provides the clients four options, plus a vegetarian option.  

MOW doesn’t simply nourish the body, but the mind and the soul as well.

Jen Copeland packs hot meals in coolers for volunteers to deliver

“Providing a meaningful social connection to our clients is as important as the food we deliver to them,” said Dorian Alan, operations manager for MOW Bluffton-Hilton Head. “And we serve our clients on Christmas Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving … all the major holidays, because we want that connection.” 

Many times, Meals On Wheels drivers are the only people that homebound folks interact with all day, and so it gives family members who are not local a higher level of comfort to know that someone else who cares is putting eyes on and having conversations with their loved ones every day. The MOW staff also has relationships with many of those family members.

“Another story involves a gentleman in Sun City who was calling us and saying that he wasn’t getting his meals delivered,” Alan said. “When we followed up with the drivers, we found out that he was, in fact, having his meals delivered every day. As well, we found that the drivers were having 10- to 15-minute conversations with him. We realized that he had actually received the meal, eaten the meal, and forgotten about it. When we reached out to his daughter to explain, she was so grateful for the information, which served to confirm her suspicions of his cognitive decline. Fast forward to now, where we’ve helped connect him with the folks in Sun City who are now checking on him more regularly.”

Mike Caporel is ready to deliver to his route

Many people move to the Lowcountry to retire. Unfortunately, often one of the spouses passes and the rest of the family lives someplace else, which leaves that surviving spouse by themselves. The National Institute on Aging reports that one in four adults aged 65 or older suffers from social isolation, meaning that they don’t interact with anyone regularly. The effects of this isolation can be as damaging to their health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to a study reported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 

“We are learning more and more about how damaging it can be for folks without social connection,” Alan said. “At Meals On Wheels, we are working with Hilton Head Island Safe Harbour to do a Fun Friday once a month. Our clients and their clients get together to play games, have lunch, and enjoy a dessert, which they love. They got so excited when we made a homemade cake for them because it’s such a treat.”

The client stories you just read represent the hundreds of recipients that MOW serve every day – some of them your neighbors. This “godsend” of a charity has needs of its own, now more than ever. The meals that MOW provide run right about $40,000 a month or $7.50 a meal. Because more and more people need their services, the financial burden is becoming a real challenge. 

Carol Magruder has been volunteering for almost 15 years

“We’ve grown 30% from last year,” Alan said. “The lion’s share of our money comes in at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year through grants. Obviously, we budget that money, but with us growing so quickly, our concern is being able meet our client needs. We don’t want to even consider putting people on a wait list. Right now, some of the calls we get are for urgent need for people coming out of the hospital or who’ve had a fall, and they need to start right away.”

MOW relies solely on individual donors and grants; none of their money comes from the government. With two programs for sponsorship, anyone can sponsor a route or a client. For instance, if an organization wants to help, $1,500 a year could sponsor one route, one day of the week. And, with that sponsorship, MOW will put a sticker with the organization’s logo on the meals that says, “This meal is proudly sponsored by (Your Organization).” When the client opens their meal, they know that someone cared that they got fed that day. One can also sponsor an individual client. While MOW doesn’t give out individual donor names, the client knows that someone has sponsored them for an extended period and is seeing to it that they get their meals. 

“We also need 20 more drivers on the island,” Alan said. “We’ve currently got five routes and are in desperate need of a sixth route on the island and a seventh route in Bluffton.”

William Small and Judy Foskey unload the van at the Meals on Wheels headquarters on Capital Drive

Drivers typically have 24 clients per route, and they drive one day a week, every week, every other month (so one month on, one month off). They use their own automobiles and provide coolers to keep meals warm and beverages cool. They’ll arrive at 9:30 a.m. at the MOW facility to pack up their coolers and then leave for their route at around 10 a.m. and are usually done by noon or 12:30 p.m.

Phil Kiser (driver scheduler and recipient of the 2024 South Carolina Governor’s Volunteer Award for Community Leader) and his wife, Robyn, have been volunteering at MOW for more than 23 years – 11 years in the Lowcountry and before that for 12 years in Columbus, Ohio, where they previously lived. Last year, the Kisers drove 93 times.

Dorian Alan,Operations Manager, Lili Coleman, Executive Director, Celeste Crago, Client Services; Paula Slevin, Bluffton Site Coordinator and Jen Copeland, Volunteer Coordinator

“It’s kind of something was in our blood when we moved down here, so we decided to continue it,” Kiser said. “It’s rewarding because we see the struggles that some of the people go through in life and even through the slight help that we can offer, the clients appreciate it so much.”

Alan said, “Whether you become a donor, a driver, or find another way to volunteer your time and talents, you are having a lasting impact in our community every single day.”  

To become a driver or a sponsor or to learn more, visit MOWBlufftonHiltonHead.org or call 843-802-0919.  

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