Betty Bradley has been the executive director of Meals on Wheels Plus in Abilene since the program began in 1975. She has overseen the expansion of the building as well as other programs, “I didn’t want to just name it Meals on Wheels because I didn’t want to limit it, so we named it Meals on Wheels Plus, Inc.”

 The group has been providing meals for senior citizens in the Abilene and to the surrounding area, including Runnels County, for all of those 44 years. They currently prepare and deliver over 1,100 meals each day, providing healthy and nutritious food for senior citizens. It not only provides a much-needed service to the community but it also helps ease anxiety and stress that some people experience, “Food insecurity is a significant issue. Many of our clients experience it and we work to help alleviate that,” Bradley points out. According to the 2019 Texas Health Rankings 14% of people in Runnels County experience food insecurity and many of them are elderly.

 Bradley and her capable team of workers and volunteers started delivering food to senior citizens in Runnels County in 2016. In the February 2017 issue of “The Scoop,” the Meals on Wheels Plus, Inc. newsletter, Bradley wrote about what brought them to Runnels County, “It was early September 2016, and I was at a Meals on Wheels Conference when the call came that would start us on an amazing journey. A pastor in Winters, just 40 miles south of Abilene, told me that the meals programs in Runnels County were scheduled to close at the end of the month. The pastors were looking for fundraising so those needing home delivered meals would still be fed.

That was the beginning of an amazing array of partnerships. There have been meetings with the Ministerial Alliances in both Ballinger and Winters, County Judge  Barry Hilliard, and the County Commissioners. Meals on Wheels Plus (MOW) was invited to expand our delivery area to included Winters, Ballinger, Rowena and Miles. The MOW Board of Directors approved the request, provided that the people in Runnels County supplied both volunteer and financial support.”

 I arrived at the Meals on Wheels Plus facility in Abilene on a Wednesday morning at 11:15 a.m. The entire building was abuzz with activity. Volunteers were filling bags and coolers with meals and drinks while other employees and other volunteers were cooking the food, wrapping it and putting it all together. Bradley says that it’s a family affair for many of the volunteers who deliver the food, “We have parents and their children come in here to pick up the meals. The family does the work together and it teaches about volunteering and caring for others.”

 As Bradley takes me around the building, we stop in the office of the lady in charge of coordinating the volunteers. We only get a couple of seconds to acknowledge each other but didn’t get to converse because her phone was ringing constantly. She’d answer the phone, give some instructions or answer questions and hang up. One or two seconds later and the phone would ring again. She’d pick it up and give instructions or answer questions. That repeated for the entire time we were in her office. With 1,100 meals prepared daily, 22 paid staff and over 800 volunteers it’s a demanding job and would seem a daunting task. Bradley says that not all of the volunteers work at the same time, “When it comes to volunteers who deliver the meals, they will usually volunteer one day a week so we have enough volunteers to cover each day of the week, Monday thru Friday.”

 It’s clear that the Meals on Wheels Plus has been Bradley’s passion for the last four-plus decades. We tour the offices, lobby and the kitchen. It’s clear by the reaction of the volunteers and employees that they revere Bradley as much as they respect her. She has a quiet elegance about her and helps ensure that the clients who receive the meals are treated with dignity. Dignity, professionalism and a genuine caring for their clients is in everything Bradley and the others do.

 Bradley confident without arrogance and has a focus and demeanor that calms those around her in the midst of cooking, packaging and delivering those 1,100 meals. The kitchen and driver pickup area are a beehive of activity, but it’s coordinated activity. There is no chaos. There is no madness. There are just order and efficiency. People working together as efficiently as any group ever has for the greater good. There is a military orderliness and efficiency about the operation but it is heart and compassion that blend it all together. Bradley clearly leads by example and her deft touch and leadership are evident in every aspect of the operation. Where many people might see a challenge, Bradley sees an opportunity and always works to the make the most of it. She doesn’t expect anything from her staff that she doesn’t expect from herself.

 Bradley says that a dietician carefully oversees the meals and the menu is created a week or more ahead of time. The clients get a choice of entrees, “We usually have beef and chicken or fish and chicken. Some people don’t like fish so they choose chicken or don’t like chicken and choose beef.” They used to offer only one choice but that changed a few years ago, “The number of meals we were providing were dropping. I was at a conference in Austin and I found that other programs were increasing in the number of meals that they provided. What I found out is that they were increasing because they offered a choice, so we started offering a choice and the number of meals began increasing. Some clients can’t drink milk so we offer juice. Some are diabetic and have other needs and we try to address each one.” Every meal meets strict dietary and nutritional guidelines.

 The program primarily operates off of donations from fundraisers. Each year they have a skeet/trap tournament, golf tournament and the Music for Meals fundraiser. This year the fundraiser for Runnels County will be the Music for Meals at the St. Joseph’s Parish Hall in Rowena on August 3rd, beginning at 5:30 p.m. This helps fund the 1,100 meals provided by the group for the 261 weekdays of the year including those 160 people that they deliver meals to in Ballinger, Winters, Rowena, Norton, Miles and Pumphrey. This means that in one year they will deliver approximately 41,760 meals to those 160 people in Runnels County alone. That is a staggering number, but more impressive is that volunteers will deliver each of those meals. Monday thru Friday, volunteers from the county will drive the 60 miles to Abilene, pick up 160 meals and then drive back and deliver them throughout the county. Runnels County itself is 1,057 square miles.

 Bradley says that they would like to expand the program but have financial considerations, “We want to serve more meals but we only have a budget of 2.2 million dollars and we have to raise about half of that through fundraisers. The fundraisers in Abilene also go towards furnishing the meals in Runnels County.” 

 The program also offers books. Clients get a request form for a book or author, fill it out and give it to the volunteer who delivered their meal and on the next trip they receive the book. Bradley says that the program is called, “Books on Wheels.” It’s conducted in partnership with the Abilene Public Library. Bradley’s vision isn’t just limited to meals and books. To help fund the program, Bradley created an LLC for a cell phone repair store named CPR Cell Phone Repair in Abilene. They repair cell phones, iPads, laptops, desktop computers and many more electronic devices. They also purchase damaged cell phones, repair them and then offer them at a reasonable price. 100% of the proceeds go towards those programs. The store is located at 4730 S. 14th street in Abilene.

 The Music for Meals fundraiser in Rowena on August 3rd will begin at 5: 30 p.m. and include a concert by the country blues band, Crossfire. There will be a silent auction and live auction and a raffle for some guns. The meal will be a pork loin steak dinner. There will also be dancing and they’ll also have free beer. Individual tickets are $15. To-go plates are $10. Children 10 years old and younger accompanying an adult get in free. For more information, you can call 325-672-5050 or go two www.mealsonwheelsplus.com.