1. What is the purpose of your organization?
Meals on Wheels of Summerville, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to providing home-delivered, nutritious, noon-time meals to the elderly or others who are homebound, isolated or incapacitated to the extent that good food preparation is impossible. We are NOT government affiliated which means we DO NOT discriminate based on age or income. We are free to assess each client on their individual circumstances and need for our services.
2. How do you go about making that happen?
In 1981 several members of the Summerville community decided that we could improve the lives of our most vulnerable citizens by offering a meal program. It has been proven over and again that proper nutrition is essential to disease prevention and overall good health. The mission evolved to deliver homebound residents a nutritious, lunchtime meals, and through the efforts of some dedicated community leaders, clergy, and health professionals our first meals were delivered in 1982. Over 30 years later we have grown to serve over 1,000 meals per week. It takes over 200 volunteers each week to keep the wheels rolling. There are 18 routes comprised of anywhere from 10 – 15 clients. It is nothing short of a small miracle to watch all our volunteers give of their time, vehicles, and resources to carry out our mission each week.
3. How has the pandemic affected your work?
29 long weeks ago we implemented new organizational procedures to protect:
· Those we serve - By delivering ALL 5 weekday meals on Mondays ONLY to eliminate 4x the exposure between our recipients and volunteers. Three of the meals are prepared and purchased from the Lowcountry Food Bank. The other two meals are prepared and packaged by our Chef Ryan and his son in our St. Paul's kitchen. Only the two of them are in the small kitchen on Sunday prepping, cooking, and packaging the meals to avoid any unnecessary social crowding. They now wear masks and gloves during the entire process. We bag all 5 meals in brown paper bags that get stapled shut with an educational and encouraging weekly letter. This gives them resources like a contact Dial a Nurse if they are feeling unwell and the opportunity to request a handmade mask donated by a volunteer. (They are loving the correspondence and I have several recipients who have said they are keeping all of them)
· Those who volunteer - Early on, while addressing the new procedures, it was decided that we would need to protect our regular volunteers as well as our recipients. We LOVE our regular volunteers but many of them were identified by the CDC as being a part of the most vulnerable to the COVID-19. We asked that any volunteer over the age of 60 or with autoimmune issues please stay home and stay safe! We tasked them with our weekly verbal well checks referenced earlier in the grant. Then Channel 2 news came to get the word out (what an answer to prayer)! Over 150 new, young volunteers from all over the tri county stepped up to help deliver our mission! Then we had to decide how to keep THEM safe, so we armed them with gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer for between deliveries and clear direction on the Do's and Don'ts of delivery. We also asked them to please NOT come into the building but instead to pull up along the curb in front of our building and we would load the meals for them into their trunks. When they returned after delivery, we asked them to turn in all unused hand sanitizer at the "Sanitation Station" where we wipe EVERYTHING down with Clorox wipes. Our new volunteers are also on a 2-week rotation. This puts 14 days between deliveries to monitor their health. We had one volunteer who was exposed to COVID and showing symptoms and this 14-day window really protected everyone!
· The Board and Staff - Our Board is only communicating by phone and email currently. We are planning a ZOOM meeting for the Executive Committee soon. Our staff is on a rotation as well. Only one staff member is on duty per day in the office during business hours. Since we have transitioned much of our workload to the "cloud" it has afforded us the opportunity to work from home while away from the office.
4. What have you done this year that you are most proud of?
Meals on Wheels of Summerville has been able to provide IMMEDIATE food relief to ALL individuals who requested and qualified for our program. We avoided ANY delay or waitlist criteria. That coupled with our new procedures have guaranteed ALL clients both new or established were served expediently AND kept safe. We are extremely proud and grateful for all the community support that has made this possible, especially during a time when so many of our seniors have been anxious and without additional resources. Thank you! Your partnership has impacted our community immensely.
5. Can you briefly share a story of how your work has helped one of your clients/the community you serve?
Like countless times before volunteers Bob and Gwen pulled down the long road leading to Ms. Lucille’s residence. Oddly, they noticed a frail figure walking towards them. It was Ms. Lucille! Bob immediately stopped the car and Gwen jumped out to ask her why she was such a distance from home, wandering aimlessly. Ms. Lucille insisted she needed to visit her bank which unbeknown to her was nowhere in the area. The sheriff kindly escorted her home that day and Bob and Gwen were able to settle her random financial urgency.
March 2020 and a pandemic later Bob and Gwen are faithfully calling to verbally check on Ms. Lucille in place of delivering. “I have no power…and it’s dark and I can’t see….”, Ms. Lucille nervously explains. “Do you have a flashlight, Ms. Lucille?”, Gwen asks. “No…”, she answers. “We will bring you one Ms. Lucille and leave it for you on your porch”, Gwen assures her and just like that the problem has been resolved.
It has been months since the flashlight exchanged hands and Bob and Gwen are back to delivering. As they approached the familiar home of Ms. Lucille, they could not help but become giddy to see their long-time friend. Despite half their faces being covered by a mask Ms. Lucille recognized them instantly. She immediately lit up and exclaimed, “Hold on! I have something for you!” Before she had even accepted her meals, she disappeared back into her home and returned smiling with a flashlight in her hand. Gwen was in silent astonishment. How could Ms. Crawley who lives with the daily struggle of dementia have possibly remembered their flashlight? Gwen graciously accepted it from Ms. Lucille as though it was a cherished gift and they all relished in what felt like a perfect moment.
6. What is the greatest challenge to your organization and its work?
COVID-19 has taken all of us on an unforeseen journey. Many of our paths have changed dramatically and some of those paths have made friends out of strangers. The unforeseen trials of 2020 have impacted us all. Did you know more than 100 of our very own Summerville citizens have stepped up to the challenge of keeping those who are isolated and without a nutritious meal fed and safe? These are teachers, nurses, small business owners, church members, police officers and the list goes on and on. We are so humbled by the compassion and commitment of our new friends coming from as far as Charleston delivering a meal and so much more.
We are equally appreciative to all our friends who are respectfully sitting out during this time. It has been difficult to enforce our new procedure which requires everyone to be under the age of 60. For over 39 years we have developed deep roots within our community. Friendships that thrived on face to face conversation, hugs, and weekly visits before deliveries. Some of our “regular” volunteers are now home making well check calls to ensure our recipients do not feel alone. We miss your voices in Ambler Hall, your big, bright smiles. Thank you for giving of yourself even while we are apart.
As we continue our new procedure through the New Year, Chef Ryan and his family can be found faithfully working in our Ambler Hall kitchen. Week after week they are prepping cases of sweet potato, cabbage, and any number of fresh produces that comes through our program. We have even served purple potatoes! He has quartered and bagged pallets worth of watermelon like a ninja, and three nights a week he stops what he is doing to graciously accept any unsold product from Panera Bread on Dorchester Rd for distribution with our meals. If that was not enough, he manages inventory and the pick-up of over 1,000 meals for our weekly deliveries! Thank you, Ryan, Mamie, and Jules, for rolling up your sleeves and giving selflessly to help others time and time again.
All these moving parts happening seamlessly as we continue to see the increased need for our services. So, while the COVID pandemic brought hardship it has also engaged our hearts. Meals on Wheels of Summerville has witnessed the power of a community that genuinely cares for each other.
7. What is one thing you wish people knew or understood about the work you do?
It is my deepest desire that everyone appreciates the importance of not just the nutritional aspect of our service but the companionship that organically develops between those we serve, our volunteers and our program. We provide a meal, but it is in the “so much more” that the magic truly takes place.