Jean O’Connor-Snyder intern Whitt Watts reflects on his experience with a Meals on Wheels team in his thought piece from Elba, Alabama.
The presence of food seems to be everywhere in Elba, whether that’s a Chamber of Commerce meeting, church service or at the Giving Garden. This summer I had an opportunity to explore another food service in Elba, one that delivers hot meals to people all over the community, when I joined up with the Meals on Wheels Team at the Elba Church of Christ.
I arrived at the Elba Church of Christ at 9 a.m. on a Thursday as volunteers were busy with food pantry distribution and preparation for Meals on Wheels deliveries.
Associate Pastor Rob Smith started the morning quickly explaining what needed to be loaded where. The day would be busy, with more than 100 meals to send out on three different routes. Because all the meals are hot, volunteers have to move fast to separate the meals and load them up in vans.
Smith motioned over to Beverly McCall, a member of the church and longtime participant in the Meals on Wheels program, to take out our van. I hopped into the blue van loaded up with nearly 70 meals to distribute throughout the community.
McCall pulled out and introduced herself and her background as a teacher at Zion Chapel for 30 years. As we cruise down the road, it is evident that McCall has memorized the route, what stops to make and how many meals each house gets.
Our first stop is at a housing complex where I jump out to deliver between one to three meals to each house. The hot meals include a dessert donated by the Publix grocery in Enterprise.
We distribute about 20 of the meals at this complex, with all types of folks coming to the doors to get their hot meals. I see families and couples sitting on the porch awaiting the meal as well as senior citizens in wheelchairs. All thank me for the meal.
The experience is a stark reminder of the benefits I have received in my own life, something I am confronting as I drop off each meal. One of the main reasons I wanted to participate in Living Democracy was to experience a different walk of life, one that was uniquely Alabama but also was not the often-privileged life of my upbringing in Vestavia Hills.
When McCall asked me where I’m from as we departed the complex, she laughed a little bit when I reply. “Well, I just know that when we got some donated computers, they were from Vestavia Hills or Mountain Brook, but they just can get new ones every year,” McCall remarked. “The students loved them, and it helped us get some technology in the classroom, especially since they weren’t used that much,” she added.
It’s said quite casually. However, it makes me think about my perception. In my eyes, Mountain Brook and Vestavia are incredibly different. But, in this small southeast Alabama town, they’re both seen as well to do suburbs near Birmingham.
Likewise, I tend to see New Brockton and Opp as just two small nearby communities. But to someone like McCall, they couldn’t be more different. It’s a small moment, but one of the moments I wanted to experience coming into this summer, one where your lifelong perceptions are challenged and changed to better understand another point of view.
This thought lingers with me as we continue our Meals on Wheels deliveries in the Mulberry Heights area of Elba, giving out meals to grateful folks. I got a chance to speak with some of the recipients, and they gave me a warm thanks for helping.
We go down one street with four stops. Everyone was sitting outside enjoying the light breeze that makes the South Alabama heat a little more bearable happily waiting on the meal.
I don’t pretend that I can fully relate with the people I handed out meals to. Their lives are quite different as they are faced with challenges I may never encounter. However, in a situation like this, relating to someone doesn’t matter all that much beyond the fact that we’re all human and we all enjoy a nice hot meal.
Sometimes, that’s enough to understand the people around us and the appreciation they have for people who take time to make sure that a simple need of a hot meal is met.
The Meals on Wheels program is by no means an incredibly complex service. They deliver meals to those who might not otherwise have one. Through that the community is improved. Food is the key to life, a catalyst for conversation, and something that can be universally appreciated by all folks no matter their backgrounds.
This Meals on Wheels trip took a city boy from Vestavia Hills down the rural backroads around Elba. It helped me understand that everyone deserves a hot meal and that we ought to do what we can to make sure they get that meal.
Whitt Watts, a political science major at Auburn University, spent his summer working with Restoration 154 and other community groups in Elba, Alabama, as a 2019 Jean O’Connor-Snyder intern with the AU Living Democracy program.
To read more of Whitt’s observations and thoughts living in Coffee County, visit the Auburn Living Democracy Blog.