According to the 2010 US Census, Hatteras Island has a population of just over 4,300 people. While visitors to the island come for the small town feel and unspoiled beauty of the beaches, it’s easy to miss just how small the year round local population is. Despite the hustle and bustle of the more than two million annual visitors to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the local population stays well connected to each other through a variety of events and charitable organizations. One such organization is Hatteras Island Meals.
“Our mission is basically anybody on the island that needs help preparing nutritious meals for themselves whether by virtue of age or physical impairment or had surgery and need a hand, whatever the issue is we provide lunch,” says Mike Tidd, President of Hatteras Island Meals.
“It is the same kind of thing as Meals on Wheels but they have really strict guidelines and the geography down here just doesn’t work for them so they won’t come down here,” he says. “It’s really sort of a shame the national Meals on Wheels organization wasn’t interested in being involved down here, but it just left a gap that needed to be filled.”
“We contract with local restaurants to prepare the meals,” says Tidd.
Waves Market and Deli in Waves, Diamond Shoals Restaurant in Buxton, and Sonny’s Restaurant in Hatteras currently provide meals for the organization. A team of volunteers picks up and delivers the lunches.
“We’re 100% volunteer, 100% donation funded, and the only thing we can manage at this point, we do meals four times a week. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. We’ve got to pay the vendors for the meals, and any money we raise goes to pay for the meals. We average betwewen 40 and 50 recipients.”
Hatteras Island Meals doesn’t take time off for holidays or hurricanes.
“At all costs, lunch should show up. It takes a little finessing from time to time to make sure that happens especially during storms when roads are flooded, neighboorhoods are flooded and it’s difficult to get back and forth, restaurants may or may not open. We get a little bit of help from the fire departments. In the most extreme of cases, they’ll do a rendezvous point with us and take the reset of the meals and make sure they get delivered.”
Tidd started out as a volunteer driver for Hatteras Island Meals six years ago, not long after he relocated to Hatteras from Northern Virginia.
“I’ve never lived in a place where people take care of each other quite as completely eagerly as they do on Hatteras Island. I’m sure it comes out of necessity over the years with storms and so forth, getting cut off. It warms the cockles.”
Tidd says the mission has helped him see parts of the island that are off the beaten track.
“You start driving around delivering meals to people, and you start finding little nooks and crannies you never knew existed. There are lots of extremes on the island,” he says. “There are the huge 10-bedroom, 12-bathroom rental machines and people living in campers that should have been crushed and put in the dumpster, but they’re neighbors. Some of them just need a hand. I don’t know how much karma there is in the world, but I might need a hand someday, too.”
Being completely donation funded in a small community can provide some major challenges, but Tidd and the other volunteers are dedicated to keeping the organization running.
“Everybody’s doing the same door knocking and competing for the same dollar, so every charitable organization down here is, to some degree, in competition but the generosity is pretty amazing between individuals and businesses and we’re chasing every grant we can find,” he says. “Our biggest fundraising event of the year is a raffle that we do during the fall months. It’s kind of timed to coincide with the major fishing tournaments, so we try to have a presence at those.”
Raffle tickets go on sale in September, “and we’re happy to mail them anywhere. The past couple years we’ve given away a weekend stay over Thanksgiving or New Year’s Eve at Watermen’s Retreat at Real. It’s the penthouse suite, and we’ve given away a crazy expensive Yeti cooler, and some other great stuff so there’s some value there.”
In 2018, raffle tickets were $10 for one, $18 for two, or $28 for four tickets.
“Twenty-eight dollars is about what it costs to feed one person per week,” says Tidd. “Everything other than the random grants we get, we scrape up comes from donations, so we appreciate every nickel that comes in the door and every nickel goes right back out to pay for meals for those folks in need.”
The nonprofit gives back even more than it delivers, he says.
“It’s rewarding. I don’t know who is getting a better deal. Really, to a degree it’s selfish because there is such a high degree of satisfaction,” Tidd says. “There are bumps in the road but it really is a good feeling. You kinda get close to a lot of these folks.”