As a barrier island, Cape Hatteras has weathered its fair share of powerful storm-incited blows throughout the years. While these natural disasters are enough to remove miles of dunes from the island’s shore, they have yet to damage the resolve of its local residents. One place this is evident is Hatteras Island Meals (HIM), a local non-profit organization determined to deliver nutritious meals to those in need in each village from Hatteras to Rodanthe, rain or shine. It is the ardent dedication of volunteers that keeps not only the organization, but also the community, afloat.
From the outset, HIM’s primary goal was to deliver food to those in the community who were unable to cook for themselves or who did not have anyone to cook for them. HIM’s mission is closely associated to that of the nationwide organization Meals on Wheels. Since Hatteras Island is so isolated geographically, however, Meals on Wheels was unable to safely deliver meals so far south. In 1987, HIM started out as local people preparing meals in their home for homebound recipients. Only years later did the health department mandate that meals come from the regulated environment of a restaurant.
Today, the organization works like a well-oiled machine that could not run without the help of several dedicated volunteers. President Natalie Mcintosh oversees the organization’s finances and meets with a board four times a year to hone in on how the organization can improve. As for day-to-day operations, these are overseen by five community managers who remain in constant communication with restaurants, drivers, and recipients in their respective villages to ensure that deliveries run smoothly. Drivers do the most hands-on work as they pick up fresh meals from restaurants and deliver them to recipients all over the island.
Drivers report to either Sonny’s in Hatteras or Diamond Shoals in Buxton by 11 a.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. It takes drivers about 30-45 minutes a day to deliver meals to their assigned recipients. While drivers donate not only their time but the use of their vehicles and the gas to deliver meals, most would agree that this is the most rewarding job because drivers get to see the people they are helping face to face.
One volunteer driver, Betty Pritchard, even called it “the best hour of [my] week.”
The driver’s number one responsibility is to see that the homebound get their meals in a timely manner. For some recipients, it is the only decent meal they will get all day and the only time they will get to talk to a familiar face.
“We really develop an attachment for the people we deliver to, and they’re usually pretty glad to see us,” community manager Mike Tidd said.
All HIM recipients are homebound and usually get recommended by a doctor, family member, or pastor before subsequently getting approved for the program by a county social worker. Though there are currently 47 recipients enrolled in the program, they range widely in age and condition. On any given day, a driver might deliver to victims of a stroke or cancer, those who have trouble speaking, or who have been displaced by storms. On the other hand, these same deliverees might have a passion for Oktoberfest and cats, might laugh heartily, or show concern only for where their fish comes from. In other words, they are just like you and me.
“We’re all going to need help at some point,” says driver Bud Nelson, and this has become a big reason for why both he and his wife stay involved with HIM.
Though recipient cases vary across the board, HIM volunteers are consistent. No matter what their position, it is passion and grit from dedicated volunteers that has kept this organization running for more than three decades.
For instance, many of the volunteers are retired and often even older than the recipients they deliver to. Some are well into their 70s, such as Phil, a driver who consistently shows up twenty minutes early because he is so eager to serve. Sheila, another driver who is also in her 70s, continued to deliver meals even when her house was severely damaged by Hurricane Matthew.
Diamond Shoals in Buxton continues to have staff prepare balanced meals for recipients, even after they have closed for the season.
Despite season and weather changes, HIM volunteers do not let such things get in their way. Throughout the years, volunteers have done whatever it took to deliver meals, even donning waders to walk through ocean overwash. And, when volunteers could not wade through, the Hatteras Volunteer Fire Department met them halfway and delivered meals on their behalf.
Just last week, even in the midst of a rare mandatory evacuation for both visitors and residents, volunteers diligently continued to deliver meals to recipients in every corner of the island. One volunteer, Betty, even checked with each recipient to ensure they had a plan to leave if they wanted to, and could get their meal the day after the evacuation if they were planning to stay.
“We all pretty much do it because we want to, because we can. We feel very fortunate in life and want to help people who haven’t been as fortunate,” Mike Tidd said.
Besides the fervent few already involved, HIM could always use more dedicated volunteers to fill spots on the board, or to serve as back-up drivers. Additionally, though HIM gets much needed support from local businesses, organizations, individual donors, and churches, they still need help with funds. With the cancellation of Day at the Docks due to Hurricane Florence’s impending destruction, HIM has missed a major opportunity to sell raffle tickets for what is perhaps their most crucial annual fundraiser. Despite these setbacks, HIM volunteers will continue to earnestly and eagerly serve our community and neighbors.
If you have any interest in helping out this organization, view the attached volunteer recruitment letter or email [email protected]