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Better Together: How Meals on Wheels of Greenville is so much “more than meals”

By Catriona Carlisle, Executive Director of Meals on Wheels of Greenville

In 2019, Meals on Wheels of Greenville sought to better emphasize a simple mantra that we long embraced – we are so much “more than meals.” Yes, our volunteer meal delivery service is the cornerstone of our mission, but I’ve been lucky enough in my role as Executive Director – and even more so as a Meals on Wheels volunteer – to witness this organization enhancing the quality of life of homebound individuals and seniors on multiple levels. The nutrition component is the vehicle for human interaction, forging bonds and fostering continued independence.  Too often, the population that we serve are lonely and in need of human connection. They can go days, even weeks without seeing or speaking to another person. We feel blessed that we can not only fuel their bodies, but their hearts and minds. And, more often than not, they are giving us so much more than we could ever give them.

Like most non-profits, we are faced with the challenge of maintaining our daily mission, while also challenging ourselves to do more. In 2018, Meals on Wheels of Greenville proudly celebrated 50 years of service by delivering our 12 millionth meal to our homebound neighbors. As we reflect on our success to date, we also see the need for what we do increasing exponentially in the next decade. In Greenville County alone, it’s estimated that the senior population will increase by 31.90% by 2030. It’s a staggering statistic that made us pause and ask ourselves, “can we do more and reach more people through our mission?” The answer was a resounding, “YES,” but we had to think outside our box. We realized in order to be even more effective stewards to this population, we had to expand our reach through important community partnerships.

This year, Meals on Wheels of Greenville joined forces with the Appalachian Council of Governments and Senior Action to act as the exclusive food provider for Senior Action’s congregate dining sites and home-delivered meals. Doing so allows our organization to provide nutritious meals to more individuals in need by expanding our footprint throughout our community. The ACOG works in close collaboration with community partners towards building a competitive economy and promoting healthy, livable communities that preserve elderly residents’ quality of life. Likewise, Senior Action is a growing organization that serves close to 5,000 seniors all over Greenville County.

Quite simply, we found we were better together. We are three organizations on a similar mission, speaking from the same megaphone, to enhance the lives of our senior neighbors. In an age where there are many wonderful opportunities to give, not to mention so many other events and attractions that can consume our time, it can be hard for a non-profit to survive, much less thrive. And yet, we feel strongly that this collaboration is the tip of the iceberg for us, thanks in tremendous part to our more than 2,000 active volunteers and many supporters.

This support from the community is the main reason we can think boldly and make the necessary move outside of our box. I’ve never been prouder of our base. Adding new routes, new clients, and more meal preparation is not easy. However, our supporters have taken on this challenge with gusto, ready to reach and do more with our resources than ever before. We know this isn’t by accident. There had to be buy-in every step of the way for this to work. The secret for non-profits (or any organization) that I believe is worth sharing is this: appreciate your people and let them in on your plans. If your mission and vision is expanding, let your team know where they fit into it. Show them their value in each step forward. It isn’t enough to say, “we are doing this.” They need to hear (and see) “we can do this, thanks to you.”

We truly are so much more than meals. We are building relationships. We are enhancing lives, no matter the race, creed, religion, socioeconomic status, and, yes, even age. One meal at a time, through committed partnerships and dedicated volunteers, we are fostering a culture of inclusion that we hope spreads far and wide. And as the senior base grows, we will be here. We are ready. And we are grateful.