December's MVP: Pat Birmingham

Pat Birmingham to take the driver’s seat of Meals on Wheels.

Pat Birmingham to take the driver’s seat of Meals on Wheels.Pat Birmingham is a true believer in Meals on Wheels – Bluffton and Hilton Head Inc., and the valuable service it provides to its clients throughout southern Beaufort County.

“Meals on Wheels is a great organization,” Birmingham said. “We’re not flashy, and we provide a valuable service to people who can’t prepare their own meals. You don’t get much more basic than food.”

Founded locally in 1979, the organization will soon enter its 30th year of service providing meals to clients regardless of their ability to pay. “We have never missed a day of serving meals, even when the occasional bad storm passes through,” he said.

Originally from Hoag Corners, N.Y., Birmingham started college but quit after two years to enter the Air Force Aviation Cadet program. He spent 20 years in the Air Force, for a short time as a navigator and the rest as a fighter pilot.

After retiring from the Air Force in 1979, Birmingham and his wife and daughter lived in Saudi Arabia and Atlanta. He and his wife moved to Hilton Head in 2000.

The late Gordon Craighead, a community leader, convinced Birmingham to become involved with Meals on Wheels, which he described as a rewarding activity.

“I gave it a shot and found it to be just as Gordon said it was,” Birmingham said.

Birmingham also volunteers at St. Francis by the Sea Catholic Church, along with his wife. There, they are the coordinators for the ministry that brings new members into the church, a commitment of one evening a week for nine months of the year.

He is also active in the Hilton Head Republican Club, running the membership activities, writing newsletters, and managed the campaign headquarters in 2004 and 2008.

Now after many years of driving for Meals on Wheels, Birmingham said he at first liked the idea of giving his time to help people. Now he enjoys seeing the people on his route. He also likes the idea of organizations that help others and do so without government involvement.

Meals on Wheels - Bluffton and Hilton Head Inc. operates on individual and organization donations, and 95 percent of those donations are used directly for the purchase of food. The organization has only a five percent administrative cost. About 15 to 17 percent of the clients pay for their meals.

“Our service includes not only the delivery of a hot meal but also friendship and the occasional helping hand to get a repair done, or to move an item in the house, or to give a ride to a doctors appointment,” Birmingham said.

Many of the drivers, who establish relationships with the clients, have been with the organization for more than 10 years.

“We seem to be able to retain a good percentage of our drivers, with a reasonably low level of turnover,” Birmingham said.

Drivers use their own cars and pay for their own fuel. Only experienced drivers are selected to serve on the board. The current board comprises 13 members, who each have one or more specific responsibilities.

Birmingham will serve as the chairman of the board for a one-year term beginning in January.

“Our board is a great group of people,” he said. All board members have responsibilities directly related to the meal delivery function.

Meals are purchased from the food service contractor at Hilton Head Regional Medical Center.

In 2007, the organization delivered 23,257 meals, 89 per day. The 120 volunteers of the organization contribute approximately 9,900 hours and drive about 58,000 miles each year.

For more information or to become a volunteer, please call (843) 689-8334.