Betsy recently celebrated 20 years of volunteering with East Cooper Meals on Wheels. We featured Betsy and her husband, Jim, in our Winter/Spring 2021 print newsletter and wanted to share their story here, too!
It was a friend who invited Betsy Smiley to ride along on the Isle of Palms/Sullivan’s Island meal delivery route around 20 years ago. She enjoyed the experience so much, that she volunteered to take on the Wednesday deliveries. Having served on IOP City Council from 1978-1990 and retired from her work in banking, Betsy saw it as an opportunity to stay involved and serve the people of the communities she loved.
Fast-forward to 2020, and it’s her husband Jim who has taken the lead role on Route 3, traversing the island community they have called home since 1971. About 10 or so years ago, Betsy started experiencing a progressive cognitive dementia that made it unsafe for her to drive, so Jim became her driver and waited in the car while she stopped in at each home to deliver meals and visit. As her short-term memory declined and other health complications arose, Jim started taking on more of the responsibilities.
“Betsy is still always part of delivering the route—riding shotgun, checking off things, and telling me where to go next,” shared Jim.
Both 80 years old themselves, Jim and Betsy recognize the most valuable thing that Meals on Wheels offers to their island neighbors. “All of us fiercely guard and value our independence,” Jim said. “We all want to live in our homes for as long as we possibly can.” Their recipient list includes a 99-year-old woman who still lives alone in her home. Though her mind is sharp, she has inoperable cataracts, and without Meals on Wheels it would certainly be more difficult for her to stay.
When it comes to delivering “more than a meal,” Jim & Betsy will tell you they feel like they’ve always gotten more than they gave. However, their stories showcase just how meaningful the daily connections with the homebound can be. Take for example the 55-year-old man who had moved to another state. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 while tying up loose ends at his empty IOP home. Food from Meals on Wheels and long telephone conversations with Jim, reminiscing about days gone by and mutual friends, made the time in quarantine more bearable. Then there was Fred, who recently lost his battle with Parkinson’s. Jim, a biologist, and Fred, an electron microscopist, always had much in common to talk about. Jim shared, “It seemed to Fred that the meal was almost secondary.”
Most notable, however, is the attention to detail that most likely saved a life. On Sullivan’s Island for their route one day, Jim & Betsy noticed a recipient’s door was locked and the porch light was on—both out of the ordinary. Knocking and phone calls went unanswered. They stopped by the fire station, then followed the crew back to the house, where they heard a voice coming from the bedroom. Once the crew gained entry, they discovered that the man had fallen. Though weak and dehydrated, he was OK thanks to his relationship with Jim & Betsy. The little things do matter after all!
Even today, recipients still ask about Betsy, though there are certainly fewer on the route who know her well. With no-contact delivery protocols in place due to the pandemic, there are even some new recipients that Jim & Betsy have never officially met. Still, they load up the coolers and make their rounds up and down the familiar streets whenever it’s their turn to deliver.
“It’s good therapy for Betsy to get out and feel a part of the Meals on Wheels team, and as her caregiver, it’s good therapy for me, too,” Jim said.