Lowcountry communities benefit from Meals on Wheels

Handmade meals have been prepared and delivered to homes in the Lowcountry for decades.

For nearly the last four decades, Meals on Wheels of Summerville has been delivering home-cooked nutritious dishes — handmade with love and care — to the community’s downtrodden, homebound and elderly residents.

“The presence of Meals on Wheels in our Summerville area means no person…regardless of age or financial status, need to go hungry,” said Crystal Bovell, executive director of the nonprofit’s local chapter since 2018. “We are committed to serving our isolated and homebound neighbors as we expand our borders to reach those most vulnerable in our community.”

But Meals on Wheels has a larger reach than many might realize. Since 1982, volunteers have been serving individuals across Dorchester, Berkeley and Charleston counties.

Hundreds of volunteers currently fill the nonprofit’s roster and are needed weekly to help deliver meals. Deliveries occur Monday through Friday. And over the years, the meal count has soared—the rise due to the continued growth occurring across the region.

“The growth in our Charleston tri-county area has had a ripple effect here,” Bovell said. “It takes over 200 volunteers a week to keep the wheels rolling!”

This past year alone, the nonprofit’s client count has risen by 34 percent. Annually, volunteer hands deliver about 50,000 meals a year, according to nonprofit officials. On Mondays, hot chicken meals made from meat donated by Piggly Wiggly of Summerville, are prepared by Chef Ryan Herrmann in the kitchen at St. Paul’s of Summerville. And thanks to a new partnership with Lowcountry Food Bank, the bank prepares meals for Meals on Wheels the remainder of the work week.

“Our new and exciting partnership with the Lowcountry Food Bank has enabled us to purchase enough meals to augment our program and extend our marginal limits,” Bovell said.

The money stems from a $25,000 State Farm Insurance Grant Meals on Wheels received earlier this year. The extra funds will cover the cost of an additional 8,400 more meals.

But there are no signs of the area’s population boom slowing; therefore, in order to meet the need for increased food items and delivery hands, Meals on Wheels said it also plans to eliminate waiting lists by adding a client manager position, along with “aggressively seeking funding to sustain” the growth, according to Bovell.

“As our community continues to blossom, so will the supplication of those within it,” she said. “Meals on Wheels of Summerville is determined and motivated to meet that need.”

The need to seek out more and different funding sources is due to the fact that the organization receives zero government funding—community donations and grants the only way Meals on Wheels has stayed afloat for 37 years.

“The support of the community is the heartbeat of our program,” Bovell said.

Meals on Wheels also operates a special Lunch Club to raise funds. For $15, a community member can sponsor a week’s worth of lunch for a meal recipient. New this holiday season, Meals on Wheels is also launching a new Candy Cane Campaign. For every $3 donation, which is the cost of one meal, Bovell said the donor can add a handwritten holiday message with a meal. The week of Christmas, volunteers will personally deliver the notes, each complete with a candy cane treat.

“We all love to receive Christmas cards, and while many of those we serve are isolated and alone, this (campaign) provides an opportunity for our community to personally encourage, love, and support them during this holiday season,” Bovell said. “After the holidays, we typically receive numerous requests for service. This is, in part, due to the new concerns a family member may suddenly have after a holiday visit.”

Additionally, Meals on Wheels accepts donations of individually-wrapped breakfast items and dog and cat food. Bovell said the items are used to supplement additional Breakfast Pantry items and handed out to individuals already in the program, who are either receiving radiation/chemotherapy treatments, are in hospice care, or are in deep financial need.

And contrary to stereotypes, meal eligibility is not based on income or age; and many meal recipients are under the age of 65, according to Bovell. To qualify for free meals, an individual must meet the following eligibility requirements: live alone or live with a spouse/partner also eligible; unable (or have tremendous difficulty) shopping for food and cooking for oneself; discharged from a hospital/rehab facility and in need of short-term meal assistance during recuperation.

While Bovell only assumed her current leadership role with the nonprofit about a year-and-a-half ago, her ties to Meals on Wheels were formed much earlier, when she served as a volunteer. For three years she said her eyes were opened to the reality of her community’s hurting population.

“(I) experienced first-hand the dire circumstances some of our very own neighbors suffer from behind closed doors,” Bovell said.

Those neighbors are often some of the same faces who work for free with the organization, because of a simple desire to help others.

“Now, having stepped behind the office curtain, I have had the privilege of helping some of our very own volunteers, who are now in need themselves,” Bovell said. “It is easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and take the simple essentials like a meal and companionship for granted. I have been given the blessing of helping others and at the end of each day, I always feel like my cup is flowing over.”

While the heartfelt memories have piled up in her mind over her years of work with the organization, Bovell said one of her favorites has always been when she happily discovered how “two volunteers, a pest control company and Habitat for Humanity banded together to make a miracle happen.”

Bovell further explained how a Meals on Wheels volunteer, worried about her frequent meal recipient living in roach-infested conditions, worked with her “bug man” to have the home sprayed pro-bono. A second volunteer with the nonprofit offered to remove the man’s couch—the source of the roaches. Meals on Wheels then reached out to Habitat for Humanity to replace the couch with a new, free one.

“After a couple of weeks of coordination, persistence and heartwarming teamwork, our recipient is now sleeping well without any unwanted visitors,” Bovell said.

And while dozens of volunteers help keep Meals on Wheels working effectively, the nonprofit won’t turn away additional hands. In fact, they encourage more.

“We are always excited to bring new volunteers into the family; with multiple opportunities, there is always something to suit every individual,” Bovell said. “It’s an exciting time here at Meals on Wheels of Summerville!”

For more information on the nonprofit, visit MOWSummerville.org.