Myrtle Beach man donates weekly meals to emergency department amid pandemic

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The Tidelands Health Newsroom

Published on October 06, 2020

Myrtle Beach man donates weekly meals to emergency department amid pandemic

There are few things you can predict when you work in an emergency department.

But over the past seven months, every Saturday evening - like clockwork - a meal for the emergency department team at Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital has shown up to nourish the health care providers’ bodies and feed their souls as they battle COVID-19.

The meals came courtesy of Jim DeFeo, a Myrtle Beach area resident who simply wanted to do something to help health care professionals as they sacrificed to care for patients with the highly contagious virus.

“It was more about showing all those people that we consider them heroes and warriors at the front lines and really sincerely appreciate everything they do,” DeFeo said. “They’ve hung in there.”

Jim DeFeo with the emergency department team at Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital.The weekly ritual began in March as COVID-19 cases started appearing in the region. DeFeo knew he couldn’t volunteer, and he didn’t have any connections to secure personal protective equipment or other in-demand medical supplies.

But a meal for the team – he knew he could pull that off. Then one meal turned into another, then another and eventually it became a weekly ritual.

He and his wife, Gerry, partnered with three restaurants - Pizza Hut, Bojangle’s and Toffino’s – to provide the food.

“I realized this isn’t really difficult to do,” said DeFeo, who has five grandchildren who were born at Tidelands Waccamaw. “It was really gratifying for me to be able to do this.”

On Saturday, Sept. 26, the last meal was served – for now. DeFeo, CEO of GuestMate Hotel Systems, is headed into a slower time of year for his tourism-based business and must cut back – though he’s already planning a special Thanksgiving meal for the team.

Jessica Nelson, a nursing assistant in the emergency department, turned to Facebook to post a photo of the team with DeFeo and publicly express her gratitude.

“Over the past seven months, in the midst of the pandemic, Tidelands Waccamaw ER has seen a lot of things, but nothing compares to the kindness, thoughtfulness and appreciation exhibited by this man,” she wrote. “No amount of thanks will equate to the genuineness this man has shown us, but we hope that you know how truly grateful we all are for everything you have done for us over these past seven months. You will forever be our ER VIP.”

DeFeo, who always dropped off the meals with a security guard outside the hospital, didn’t meet the nurses and others he was feeding until he delivered that last meal.

The team members surprised DeFeo outside the hospital with balloons, a mum plant, a gift card to a local restaurant and their genuine gratitude.

“I had a little lump in my throat,” DeFeo said. “I knew they appreciated it but not how much until last Saturday. It really meant a lot.”

DeFeo’s kind gesture is among the outpouring of community support Tidelands Health has received since the pandemic started.

A group of residents united via Facebook to organize nightly meals for a grateful team in the emergency department at Tidelands Georgetown Memorial Hospital. And donations poured in from residents, businesses and organizations wanting to show support for the front-line workers at Tidelands Health. Donations of food, PPE and other medical equipment, comfort insoles from Scholl’s Wellness Co., candy bars from Hershey and more helped lift the spirits of health care workers battling a pandemic the likes of which most never imagined they’d see.

“You just can’t put into words how much all the donations, thank-you notes, parking lot vigils and well-wishes meant – and still mean – to our team at Tidelands Health as we continue to battle COVID-19,” said Pam Maxwell, chief nursing officer. “Knowing the community appreciates our sacrifices and supports our work provides a needed boost as our health care professionals sacrifice to care for our community.”

Want to show your support? Click here to find ways you can donate and show your appreciation.

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Tidelands Health is the region’s largest health care provider, serving the Carolinas at four hospitals and more than 60 outpatient locations. More than 2,500 employee, physician and volunteer partners are working side by side with our communities to transform the health of our region – promoting wellness, preventing illness, encouraging recovery and restoring health.