Meals on wheels: Baldwin’s breadbasket

Chris Collier | Senior Writer | Nov. 20, 2019

Meals on Wheels of Baldwin County was founded in 1975 with the mission of providing meals to those unable to prepare their own. Armed with over 100 volunteers, the organization delivers nearly 6,000 meals each year.

 Carol Agee, program coordinator for Meals on Wheels of Baldwin County, joined the organization in 1984 after witnessing its power to feed the ill first-hand.

“My parents were both sick—I was an only child—and they had cancer,” Agee said. “Someone put them on there [Meals on Wheels] to help me out. The next thing I know, they’re telling me I need to apply for the job.”

Angie Yones | Art Director

Meals on Wheels originated in the United Kingdom during a German bombing campaign in World War II. Many lost their homes and the ability to cook food. The Women’s Volunteer Service for Civil Defense (WVS) delivered meals to those in need.

The first home-delivery meal initiative in the U.S. began in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1954. Programs in Columbus, Ohio and Rochester, New York would soon follow.

Today, Meals on Wheels enables millions of volunteers to deliver 220 million meals to 2.4 million seniors across the nation each year.

According to Meals on Wheels, 59% of the program’s recipients live alone, and 35% live in poverty. Furthermore, 15% of recipients are veterans.

Patti Tolbert, Executive Director for Meals on Wheels of Baldwin County and professor at GC, has been with the organization for about 20 years. She’s one of several GC faculty members that volunteers for the organization.

“I remembered that my mother had to go each day and fix something for my grandmother to eat since she was a shut-in,” Tolbert said. “I checked into Meals on Wheels.”

Tolbert said the organization’s mission is to help those who are unable to leave their home.

“Most of the time, elderly people can do well staying at home, but they can’t always buy groceries and can’t (or shouldn’t) try to cook,” Tolbert said. “We help them with that by delivering a hot, healthy meal at lunch five days a week.”

Throughout their many years of service, Tolbert and Agee have seen heartbreak first-hand. From a homeless veteran living in a bus to a blind woman unable to see her meal and its deliverer, there has been no shortage of emotional moments for the long-time volunteers.

“We had a lady one time that didn’t have any legs from here down—Ms. Kelsey,” Agee said. “And every day she’d hug your neck and thank you for bringing her lunch. I mean, she was special.”

Doyle Boyd, 86, started volunteering after retiring from a career in social work in 2000. His goal, like millions around the nation, is simple.

“That’s the reason I got into social work—is to help people,” Boyd said. “This I see as an opportunity to help people.”