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It takes a team approach to prepare and deliver 1,300 meals a week to homebound seniors, but Sumter's Meals on Wheels' staff is up to the task.
The Sumter Senior Services crew includes five regular drivers, a couple other staffers, a coordinator and a handful of volunteer drivers who pitch in on certain days in a pinch. Their output is 200 hot meals per day, or 1,000 a week, plus about 300 frozen dinners weekly.
One and all will attest the work gives them a good feeling in their heart to serve Sumter's seniors in need and helps them about as much as it helps the clients of the home-delivered meals.
Each weekday morning, the meals come in freshly prepared and hot from the agency's caterer, Senior Catering, which has branches in Berkeley and Marlboro counties.
By 8 a.m., everyone on the team is taking part in a well-orchestrated kitchen operation - each with his or her own task - at parsing out the hot meals into containers. Meals are USDA-approved for seniors and generally include a meat, vegetables and fruit.
Tamyra Walker, Sumter Senior Services' home-delivered meals coordinator, is the crew chief for the team. She's been in her role for about 1.5 years.
Walker said the job requires a love for people, especially seniors. She usually stays at the agency during the day, but if a regular driver is out sick or they are short-staffed, Walker said she will go out and do a route.
Driver Mark Lowder has been working with the Meals on Wheels program for seven years. He and the other regular drivers generally work five to six hours a day, split between kitchen duty and their delivery routes.
For the homebound seniors receiving a meal, Lowder said it often makes their day just when a driver shows up.
"I enjoy meeting people and seeing the joy they have," he said. "Sometimes, they are overwhelmed with emotion, and that's very touching."
On Tuesday, Lowder's route took him first to the home of David Allen near the downtown area. The 72-year-old Allen has been receiving meals in the program for about a year, he said.
Previously, he prepared for himself a lot of sandwiches and pizzas, which took a lot of time and effort and a lot out of him, he said.
"Now, I am eating better, and I feel better also," Allen said. "It really does make a difference."
He described Lowder as "bright and cheerful," and that makes him feel the same.
"The meals are flavorful and have been a real blessing to me," he said. "They do a remarkable job with what they have."
Driver Randell Wilson has been part of the team for five years and said the work is "extraordinary, all year round," not just around the holidays.
He said many of the homebound seniors have difficult health conditions, and to see their drive each day gives him motivation.
"To know they get up out of bed every day helps me get up in the morning because I know I have a job to do, and that's to help them," Wilson said. "It's just a good feeling."
The veteran member of the team is Howard Davis. The 80-year-old from Sumter is a veteran, as well, with service time many years ago in the U.S. Navy.
Davis said he's been part of the home-delivered meals program for almost 17 years now. The work helps him stay active and away from the doctor's office.
He's also quick to mention he's the first one in the kitchen each day at 7 a.m., sorting delivery bags. It takes him about three hours a day to do his delivery route, and Davis said the key is "you got to keep moving."
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