The Magazine of South Carolina

Special Delivery

Delivering Meals to Homebound Citizens


Volunteer Margie Cook with regional distributor Mary Kearse

Grace Hardy delivers a meal to a client's door

Leonard Price

by Aïda Rogers

It’s a happy-sad thing, delivering meals to people who need them. The volunteers feel good bringing nourishment to the elderly, sick, disabled and poor. The clients are happy to see someone from the outside world.

But there’s nothing happy about arthritis, blindness, amputation and a house with broken windows and no air-conditioner. Especially on a glaring Monday in June, when it’s 96 degrees in Denmark, SC.

"They get a meal every day except Saturday and Sunday, and that breaks my heart," says the resolutely upbeat Grace Hardy, from behind the wheel of her 1989 Chevrolet Caprice. "These people need food."

Hardy is pinch-hitting for a volunteer who couldn’t help today. Normally, Hardy doesn’t deliver, but coordinates the program from its headquarters at Denmark’s First Baptist Church. For the 82-year-old Hardy, delivering meals is not unlike delivering the mail, which she did for 10 years before she "retired" into her current position. Watch as she maneuvers her way around town—left hand on the wheel, right hand reaching for trays on the passenger seat and milk from the cooler on the floor. "Each route is packed separately with hot water bottles so they stay hot," she informs. "If it’s a cold meal, they use ice packs. We’re monitored occasionally to make sure they stay the same temperature."

The covered tray of food slides on the dashboard as she turns into Canterfield Manor, a tidy group of one-story units. In one is Joe Bruce, flat on his back, feet bound in special casts for osteo arthritis. His apartment is clean, and a home health nurse is making sure his immediate needs are met. Not the least is today’s lunch of steak, mashed potatoes, carrots, bread, strawberry shortcake and one-percent milk.

"This does a lot for me because I get my balanced meal," Bruce explains, lifting himself up on a pulley suspended from the ceiling. "I have someone cook for me sometimes, but with my cook, I don’t get a balanced meal."

At Fair Ridge apartments, another neat cluster of one-story homes, Annie Mae Sanders sits patiently. Hardy knocks and walks in. "Annie Mae?" she calls out. "How are you doing, darlin’?"

Sanders also appreciates her daily meal. Though she has two daughters and two granddaughters in town, they’re too busy with their own families to spend much time with her. And Sanders surely can’t do for herself. "This old leg, I had a stroke in it and I can’t hardly stand up on it. It makes it hard to fix for myself."

While volunteers enjoy making deliveries, they understand they’re doing much more than making sure someone gets fed. "They’re glad to see you. They’re lonesome," says Ora Lee Davis, who’s been volunteering for three years. Margie Cook, a 10-year volunteer, remembers when she found a client who’d fallen in the bathroom and almost ripped off the toilet seat trying to pick herself up. Then there was the woman who’d fallen through the floor of her mobile home. Volunteers have adjusted televisions for amputees and called the rescue squad during heart attacks.

Believes Cook: "It’s a much-needed ministry."

Such an instance occurs today. Jennie Maree Sellers, 92, doesn’t seem to be home. At least, her car isn’t in the garage. But Grace Hardy pushes in the back door, holding the tray and milk against her for balance. Sellers, another arthritis sufferer, is in the bedroom, struggling to get up. Finally, she makes her way into the living room, using a walker.

A former art and home economics teacher at Voorhees College and the local public schools, Sellers is partial to the cold meals: chicken salad, potato salad, congealed salad. Having meals delivered means she can still be active with family, friends and the community. Hardy believes daily contact and regular meals help keep people out of nursing homes.

Meals are delivered in every county in South Carolina. Home Delivered Meals are not to be confused with Meals on Wheels, a mostly private corporate program that operates in conjunction with the HDM program. The latter relies on federal funds from the Older Americans Act, Social Services Block Grant or Medicaid.

In South Carolina, 4,800 people are waiting to receive home-delivered meals, says Joanne Metrick, division director of Aging Network Services at the SC Department of Health and Human Services. Of those, 3,000 are eligible for Community Long Term Care, a Medicaid-funded program. The other 1,800 receive services with funds from other sources. Clients who can are given the opportunity to contribute to the cost of services they receive. All contributions are used to maintain, improve or expand services, Metrick explains.

The waiting list exists despite an increase in funding through the state’s FY 99-00 budget. In July, an increase of $1,599,093—which translates into 657,010 more meals—was approved. Before this increase, there were 4,300 people on the waiting list. While it sounds good to read about, it’s a different story when confronted by reality in Denmark.

"We all have a waiting list," says a tired-sounding Carolyn Kinard, director of Bamberg County’s program. "We can’t seem to get the legislature to know how badly we need this."

Hardy was so upset she took personal action. After two years of waiting for meals, one gentleman on her route finally got the service. When Hardy went to his home to deliver his meal, no one was there. At a neighbor’s house, she learned the gentleman was in a nursing home.

"How long has he been there?" she asked.

"Long enough to have both legs amputated," the neighbor replied.

Chagrined, she began looking for a fundraiser. She found it a few months later in custom-designed, macramé chairs. While they’re unique and make special gifts—she can create Clemson and USC chairs that are ideal for tailgating—she’s most focused on what they mean for Bamberg County’s hungry. Hardy figures she’s made about 150 chairs since 1993. She’s given all the proceeds—$3,600 to date—to the countywide program.

Hardy, South Carolina’s 1996 Aging Network Volunteer of the Year, doesn’t stop with the chairs. She also knits dishcloths for sale; and at Christmas, she and her daughter and son-in-law make stockings of candy, nuts and fruit to deliver to recipients on Denmark’s two routes. Meals aren’t delivered on Thanksgiving or Christmas, she points out, "which is grievous to me."

Every county operates its program differently. Williamsburg County, for instance, provides frozen meals prepared and packaged out of state, which then are delivered once weekly. Some Williamsburg County recipients receive two meals a day; breakfasts are available, too. In Newberry County, recipients are served frozen meals early for holidays, and "shelf stable" meals for the "hot meal clients." Darlington County recipients get deli food and fruit a day earlier for holidays; 100 people are waiting to receive meals there.

Aiken County’s official waiting list of 30 is deceptive, says Beth Hollingsworth, assistant executive director of the Aiken Area Council on Aging. More rural citizens need the service but can’t get it because they don’t live on a meal route. Regulations govern how long food can be transported in insulated carriers, and those who live too far out can’t get the service. Another problem: not enough volunteers.

Still, the almost 5,000 volunteers in South Carolina are devoted. In Georgetown County, Virginia and Miles Whitener have delivered 30–40 meals daily for several years. Most volunteers deliver once a week—often in pairs, so one can drive and the other deliver. Volunteers pay for their own gas. "If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be volunteers," notes James Jayroe, executive director of the Georgetown Council on Aging.

To qualify for meals, candidates must be 60 or older, live alone and need help with activities of daily living. In some counties, disabled citizens younger than 60 receive the service.

It hasn’t escaped Grace Hardy’s attention that she’s older than many of the clients she serves. Nor has the fact that one day, she may be receiving what she so joyfully gives. "I have many thoughts about that," she confides. "If I needed it, I would not back up to ask for it. It’s a balanced meal, and a person could survive on that meal plus cereal for breakfast and a sandwich for supper."

She jerks her car into reverse when she realizes she’s passed a stop on the route. She’d been thinking about the people who don’t get meals on holidays. It bothers her. "Some of them have nobody," she says, shaking her head. "Some of them have nobody."


Green Thumbs & the Midas Touch

by Lynn Nickles

Leonard Price’s daughters tell him he’s got two green thumbs. Evidence abounds at North Camden Plantation, where he has lived for more than a year. Blooming plants are everywhere, including lantana for the butterflies and a beautiful field of sunflowers. Rows of ripe tomatoes, corn, okra, butter beans, cabbage, field peas and other crops fill a vegetable garden. For quail and wild turkey, there are lush plantings of millet, soybeans and chufa. "We continually plant for wildlife," Price said. "This is more a wildlife preserve than anything else."

Nearly 80 years old and twice widowed, Price lives alone but never gets bored. "Blessed with good health," the robust Gilbert native is able to enjoy retirement. Still chairman of the board for Budweiser of Spartanburg, a family business, Price cooks for himself in a gourmet kitchen and entertains often in the impressive home he had built on the plantation in 1999. This year, Price again will chair the annual Nature-Fest, an eight-year-old fundraiser for Senior Resources (formerly Council on Aging) of Richland County. The event is held about a mile from the house, where there is a picnic shelter built especially for NatureFest.

NatureFest arose out of a conversation between Price and his friend William E. "PWE" (pronounced Pee Wee) Harris, who has managed North Camden Plantation and another of Price’s farms for several decades. Harris’ wife Freddie Ann Harris is the director of fundraising and public relations for Senior Resources. Several years ago, the organization held a golf tournament, and she was pretty discouraged because the tournament raised very little money. Shortly thereafter, her husband and Price came up with a better idea.

Price recalled, "We’d been piddling with bird dogs for about 30 years, and we were talking about what we could do to help her raise money for Meals on Wheels. We decided to get together maybe about 40 of our bird hunting buddies and let them pay $200 apiece to enter a dog. And we’d just have a field trial and let our old dogs do what they do and see who has the best bird dog. So we started out that way—and that year we raised $6,000."

In addition to his green thumbs, Price also seems to have the Midas touch. Each year, the event consistently has raised more money than before. NatureFest raised more than $56,000 in 1999, according to Freddie Ann. The fundraiser now requires a committee of more than 22 people, and its profits go to not only Meals on Wheels but to all the other programs offered by Senior Resources: companionship, transportation, wellness, assisted living and senior volunteer projects.

Meals on Wheels is Price’s pet program. He recognizes the fact that not all his peers can cook and care for themselves as he does. He also knows many seniors are starved for companionship more than for food.

Price’s mother passed away several years ago at age 97. While she never needed home-delivered meals, she once told her son she was concerned because nobody ever visited her anymore.

"They get to a point that all of the people they’ve associated with all their lives pass on, and all their family is gone, and they’re just there," he said. "So, when this meal comes, they’re so happy. They want to eat, but they’d much rather talk and visit than they would eat. That’s what I think is so meaningful about the program. It affords not only a meal but it gives that person contact."

Freddie Ann Harris agrees the meal is secondary to the company Meals on Wheels volunteers provide. "Sometimes this is the only adult they see maybe for weeks at a time. We also have to depend on the volunteers to keep us informed about what’s going on with our clients."

In 1999, more than 1,000 volunteers in Richland County alone delivered 89,808 meals. Recently, Senior Resources added a delivery route for 25 new clients. "For these 25 people," Harris said, "we need $125 per day, or $31,375 annually."

She stressed that volunteers are essential for Meals on Wheels to function within Senior Resources’ shoestring budget. Corporate support is also vital.

The primary reason NatureFest has become such a successful fundraiser is corporate support, according to Price. He contributes $2,500 to the event’s coffers himself, and he asks corporate sponsors to do the same.

One of NatureFest’s supporters, Bob Bennett of Bob Bennett Ford, not only makes a contribution but recruits many other sponsors. Bennett said that after he became knowledgeable about Senior Resources’ programs, he felt the organization warranted support. Bennett personally talks with potential corporate sponsors to let them know how they can help NatureFest fulfill its mission.

Another friend of Price, retired Army Col. Liston "Sack" Edge, has been a member of the NatureFest committee since its inception. His favorite parts of the festival are "watching the dogs do their thing and having a family outing," and he pointed out that the $200 entry fee for the bird dog competition "goes to a real good cause. I think most people understand that, and I don’t think it’s that expensive."

During the NatureFest committee meetings, held at North Camden Plantation, Edge and PWE Harris sometimes cook for fellow committee members. As one might expect, the menu often differs a bit from what one might receive from Meals on Wheels. This is an adventuresome group. Edge and Harris cook wildlife dinners or fish or deep-fried turkey; sometimes they make "redneck rice: chick-en backbone, sausage and onions—we flavor it up with maybe a little duck."

NatureFest still centers around a bird dog competition, and last year, organizers added a retriever contest. Volunteer judges Tim Roof of Chapin and Joe Pope of Columbia choose the dogs with which they would most like to hunt). Each winner "receives nothing but a trophy," according to Price. All the money raised goes to Senior Resources.

Starting at 8 a.m., the bird dog competition pairs two dogs in a brace. Usually, about 28 dogs compete throughout the day. Once the dogs are turned loose, they run what Price calls the "back course," ending up at a bird field where five birds are released for each pair of dogs. After a dog points, its handler will flush the bird out, or cause it to fly.

"We don’t shoot any of the birds," Price said. "When the dogs point, the handler will walk up to the dog, and he will fire the gun, so the judge will know the dog is not gun-shy."

If one dog points, the other dog is supposed to "back" him, or "lock down" and stand still. Dogs are scored according to how well they point and back, how they stay with their handlers and whether they pay attention.

In the retriever competition, dogs go after dummies that have been thrown into the "Four Queens" pond, which Price named for his daughters. Children are encouraged to fish in another pond. Last year, the children caught about 200 bream, Price said.

"Some of the children have never fished before, and that’s what it’s all about—teaching young people about nature and letting them see and enjoy what can be provided just in the wide open woods and fields," Price said. Among the other activities are wagon and tractor rides, horseshoe and ring toss games, nature walks and bird-watching expeditions. The Department of Natural Resources provides lessons on gun safety for youngsters. The Hard Times Café in nearby Cassatt caters a barbecue lunch to raise additional funds. Cost is about $7 a plate, and café owner H.C. Robinson donates profits from the sale of meals to Senior Resources.

Around lunch time, there are live and silent auctions, with prizes like a Ducane grill, vacation packages, a Bose radio, shotguns, hunting or fishing trips to Maine, duck stamps, sporting apparel and sometimes even a hunting dog.

Spectators are welcome to come free of charge, although donations are encouraged. "It’s a fun day," Price said, "but it’s a day to raise funds. We want you to reach into your pocketbook and contribute . . . to support people who really and truly are in need."

Lynn Nickles is a freelance writer in Columbia.


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