Every week day, Bridgett Martin drives 45 minutes from her home in Orangeburg to Columbia to help prepare meals for Columbia’s elderly.
She arrives at the Senior Resources kitchen off of Millwood Avenue around 8:15 a.m., joining fellow employees and volunteers as they prepare 200 meals in a little over an hour. On this day, the meal was among the easier ones to pack — Salisbury steak, rice, green beans, toast and an orange.
At mid-morning, more volunteers will arrive to pick up the hot food and drive routes delivering the food to recipients of Meals on Wheels, a program that provides meals to elderly, frail and home-bound members of the Richland County community.
Martin, along with the rest of the group, is very passionate about helping others.
“Serving the Meals on Wheels community feeds my soul, just like we feed them,” she said.
Despite the tireless work and dedication from the employees and volunteers, the program is unable to accommodate all of the people who need assistance. The organization is seeing an all-time high number of clients, at 850, and do not have the funding to provide any additional meals, said Andrew Boozer, executive director of Senior Resources. There are 125 people who are waiting for a spot in the program.
Those who would like to receive Meals on Wheels can apply online or be referred to the program by their doctor, another agency, family or a friend. According to the website, three-fourths of Meals on Wheels clients are at or below 200% of the national poverty level, which is $12,490 for individuals. However, there is no income requirement to qualify for meals. Depending on their income, some may receive meals for free while others pay a small fee.
There are 1,000 volunteers every year who make this important resource possible. Senior Resources operates three separate kitchens that produce 2,000 hot meals each week, along with 600 frozen meals delivered to clients in outlying areas and 400 hot meals for the four senior wellness centers in Columbia, Boozer said.
After food preparation and clean-up, volunteers come in to pick up meals and take them to the homes of seniors around Columbia. Typically, there are 28 routes per day.
James W. Alford, a 78-year-old veteran, is on one of these routes.
Each day, Alford waits in his doorway for the arrival of the volunteers who will be delivering his meal for the day. Outside of his house, he proudly displays an American flag and a green Special Forces flag to commemorate his 30 years in the military.
Alford greets his visitors with a contagious smile and welcomes them into conversation. He said he is known as “Boo” for his blue eyes and freckles. He is of mixed race and speaks of his Anglo-Saxon heritage and his African American heritage, his family history, and his time in the military.
“I am the most blessed human on the face of this earth,” said Alford.
He said he is not only appreciative of the daily meals, but the opportunity to interact with every visitor that knocks on his door.
Often, the elders invite the volunteers in to chat. On a recent afternoon, one volunteer, a USC nursing student, sat down with a client who shared a family photo album, talked of her late husband and her grandson, and mused on the fortunes of UofSC football coach Will Muschamp. When it was time for them to wrap up the conversation, they embraced. The woman said the time spent together was the best part of her day.
This socialization is paramount in the lives of many elderly people who are living on their own or do not have the ability to leave their house without assistance.
“It’s a very fulfilling job, in that we get to serve the seniors and sometimes we may be the only people they see in a week,” said Martin.
Not only does each stop on the route provide clients with a warm smile and an opportunity for conversation, but it also allows for an important safety check to maintain the independence of the elderly members of the community.
Meals on Wheels is a program that benefits both the employees and volunteers, and the clients that they serve. To donate to this program, visit their website.
Elizabeth Taylor just reached the one-year mark of working for Meals on Wheels. She comes into the kitchen every morning to help prepare the meals for the day.
This group of employees and volunteers is a part of the Meals on Wheels team that serves 850 seniors every year in Columbia. From left to right: Chuck Kessler, Robert Crump, Bridgett Martin, Francis Logan, Elizabeth Taylor, Andrea Smith, Robert Harris.
James W. “Boo” Alford appreciates Meals on Wheels for the daily meals, and the opportunity to socialize with the people who are delivering them.
Robert Crump and Bridgett Martin work together to complete the final steps on the meal prep assembly line. They have all of the meals prepared by 10:30 a.m., when volunteers arrive to pick up the meals for delivery.