December 2007

Meals on Wheels

Author: Craig Hysell

Delivering Hot Meals to the Homebound

Jim Smith* answered the door like anybody else would have, except that he was in a wheelchair. His arthritic hands were gnarled and full of almost a century’s worth of experiences. He grinned broadly as the strangers entering his one-bedroom apartment were introduced to him.

Smith lives alone in a small rental unit on the north end of Hilton Head Island. His wheelchair and his age make it difficult for him to get out much, so he entertains himself by operating a HAM radio, talking to people all over the world without e-mails, sat phones or cellular connections. Once a day, Monday through Friday, he gets a hot meal delivered to his home by a Meals-On-Wheels volunteer. He wears his gratitude with the grace of an humble king.

Meals-On-Wheels of Bluffton/Hilton Head is a non-profit organization serving southern Beaufort County. They provide their clients one hot meal a day, brought to their home, for a temporary or extended period of time, based on the client’s needs—a concept, both simple and noble, which takes a tremendous amount of community resources to succeed.

Most of Meals-On-Wheels’ clients are the elderly or handicapped who need that little bit of assistance in order to keep living independently. But Meals-On-Wheels caters to all those in need, whether they are recuperating from a surgery or illness, have been in an accident at work or just need that extra something to make ends meet.


Prospective clients of the Meals-On-Wheels program must be interviewed in order to ascertain their ability to qualify. Clients are referred to Meals-On-Wheels by hospitals, churches, family members, friends and other social agencies. Clients are asked to pay for a portion, or all, of the meal’s cost. However, no potential client is ever denied Meals-On-Wheels services because of an inability to pay.

Sean Ryan, a local realtor, serves as a Meals-On-Wheels board member and delivers meals once or twice a month. “Some people pay for all of it; some people can’t pay at all; and others just give us what they can.” It’s the nature of an organization which depends immensely on volunteers and the charity of others.

All meals are prepared by the kitchen staff at Hilton Head Regional Medical Center. A certified dietician oversees the special dietary needs of a client list which is full of individual health requirements. Diabetic, puréed, low sodium and renal meals are all provided. Yet, unless otherwise restricted, clients do have a bit of choice in what they have delivered.

But it’s in the delivery process that the true heart of Meals-On-Wheels beats. All deliveries are made by volunteers using their own vehicles. “Most of our volunteers are retirees,” said Ryan. They drive to the hospital, pick up the meals which need to be delivered on their route and then hit the road. Meals-On-Wheels volunteers deliver about 100 meals a day across Hilton Head, Bluffton and Pritchardville.

Meals arrive late morning, Monday through Friday, even on holidays. “Currently we have over a hundred volunteers, but we could always use more,” Ryan added, unable to adequately express what each person’s effort means to the program, and to its clients. In some cases, Meals-On-Wheels volunteers are the only people clients interact with all day long, he explained.

Although the organization receives some financial support from the United Way of Beaufort and Jasper County, Meals-On-Wheels is completely dependent on the donations of individuals and other local organizations. They pay no national dues and concentrate solely on managing the needs of the local community’s elderly, ill, handicapped and in need. “We can always use the donations,” said Ryan, explaining that ninety-five percent of the money collected goes to the cost of food. “For a man like Smith, it’s the kind of thing that saves his life.”

As conversation wound down, Smith smiled and thanked the volunteers. As his visitors left, he set his meal on his old table and rolled himself back to his radio post. Things were going to be just fine that day, much like they are every Monday through Friday with the not-so simple guarantee of a hot meal.

Anyone interested in volunteering, making deliveries or in need of service can call 843-689-8334. All donations to Meals-On-Wheels are tax deductible. Checks can be made out to Treasurer, Meals-On-Wheels and mailed to: Meals-On-Wheels, P.O. Box 23691, Hilton Head Island, SC 29925.

*Not the client’s real name

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