Since April, the staff at Tippy’s Restaurant and Beachside Bar in Eleuthera have been preparing and delivering generously proportioned meals to members of the vulnerable elderly community living in and between the settlements of James Cistern and Savannah Sound.
The team has dubbed its COVID-19 response program “Meals on Wheels,” inspired by Meals on Wheels Texas, a home-delivery and congregate meal program for seniors and adults with disabilities.
Over the last nine months, Meals on Wheels Eleuthera has served over 12,000 meals to a group of 67 senior citizens, many of whom live alone and suffer from dementia.
“It’s been a ride— one that I would not want to take back,” said Latisha Bethel, Tippy’s staff member and Meals on Wheels delivery driver.
“It was almost as if you were bringing them gold. That’s how excited they would be,” she said.
Earlier this year, the restaurant staff worked to determine a list of their community’s most vulnerable and in-need persons, and to no one’s surprise, it was the elderly.
“We went through the community, house by house, and figured out if they had kids living with them or if they were by themselves, and that’s how we made our assessment,” Bethel explained.
“It’s heartbreaking because a lot of them don’t have kids. Some do, but nobody really checks for them,” she said.
Bethel knows one of the women who she delivers to personally; she was a janitor at her primary school in North Palmetto Point.
“She always looked out for me when I was in school,” Bethel said.
“And it’s just the small things that they’re grateful for.”
When it first began, Meals on Wheels Eleuthera was preparing and delivering meals six days a week.
However, as time went on and because of decreased funding, deliveries have been reduced to four days a week.
“We don’t want to take away from the quality of the food or what we’re doing, so we thought it was best to go to four days,” said David Barlyn, owner of Tippy’s and contributing manager at Pineapple Fields.
Barlyn noted that while the outpouring of support from local residents and businesses has been incredible, in order for them to continue this program, more funding is needed.
He said that, since starting Meals on Wheels, Tippy’s has raised around $62,000 to date.
“Everybody’s been incredibly generous; nobody thought it would go on this long,” he said.
“Hopefully with a little more awareness, people will be a little more apt to help out”.
Meal recipients have roughly eight choices to select from, and the options change every week.
“All of us come together and make it work,” said Vandora Johnson, head chef at Tippy’s.
“In this time, people really need help. They appreciate it and they let us know how much they appreciate it.”
The menu often includes meals like spaghetti Bolognese, roasted turkey and mashed potatoes, baked chicken with peas and rice, ribs with beans and coleslaw, and a big boil-down consisting of ham, sweet potatoes, cassava, and cabbage.
Mixed vegetables are also served with every meal.
“It means the world to them,” Bethel said.
Over the years, Tippy’s has slowly been introducing a farm-to-table model for the restaurant.
Currently, Tippy’s is raising 40 pigs and has five acres worth of planted crops like sweet potato, okra, pumpkin, cassava, papaya, starfruit, and guava.
Conveniently situated next door to Tippy’s and Pineapple Fields is Oceanview Farm where Angela Brown has been raising fresh eggs.
Barlyn said that the fresh produce, the pork, and the eggs are all doled out between Tippy’s staff and the Meals for Wheels program.
“I’m just so proud of the staff,” Barlyn said.
“They were the ones that really took this by the reins.”
In addition to delivering four meals a week, Meals on Wheels staff have been at the beck and call of these 67 seniors, attending to any and all requests they might have.
Elliott Rolle, Barlyn’s business partner and co-owner of Tippy’s, told The Nassau Guardian that most of the additional favors that Tippy’s staff does for the elderly comes directly out of pocket.
When persons ask for an extra item like bread, aspirin, or even a bottle of wine, Rolle said he always complies.
“It’s a humbling experience to help people,” he said.
“Seeing the look on people’s faces always gives me the nod to go on and to help as much as I can.
“You’ve got to make those people feel special, make them feel loved.”
In addition to the aforementioned, Tippy’s staff members George Johnson, Ianna Brathwaite, Raphael Bethel, and Jason Alcime have each been crucial contributors to mobilizing and maintaining the Meals on Wheels Eleuthera COVID-19 response program.
“I always say, I am only as good as my staff,” Rolle said.
Meals on Wheels provided its final delivery for 2020 on Friday of last week, promising the seniors that they will start back up again in 2021.
“It broke my heart when I told them on Friday that we’re going to take a break for Christmas and start again in the new year,” Bethel said.
“Some of them were like: What am I going to do? How am I going to eat?”
Barlyn explained that, prior to their final delivery, the number of meal requests had started to increase.
“It’d be nice if we could do it permanently, but this is going to go on for a while,” he said.
“Everybody’s taken such good care of our business for so long that it’s just nice to be able to give back.”