Michael Tyler served three terms in Afghanistan before retiring from the military. Dedicated and passionate, today he runs the non-profit, Meals on Wheels in Myrtle Beach, feeding the hungry
This Three-Time Afghanistan-Veteran Now Feeds Myrtle Beach’s Hungry
I was born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1986. By the time I was in second grade, we moved to Myrtle Beach. I went to St. James Elementary School and graduated from Socastee High School.
I’ve always had the desire to live a life full of adventure. When I was younger I was an adrenaline junkie. And I always was seeking a higher purpose. My basketball coach in high school told us: “If you don’t have any stories to tell, you don’t have a life worth living.” And for me, that has always stuck with me.
That’s why, the summer of my junior year in high school, I decided to get involved in the military and went to basic training in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. I graduated before my senior year and entered the reserves. After that, I’d travel once a month to Raleigh, NC for a weekend drill.
My mom and dad had always loved Myrtle Beach. My father died when he was thirty-three years old, and after he passed, we were able to make it our home when my mom got a job here. As a youngster, I always had this fear that I wouldn’t make it past the age of 33 or 34, so I always wanted to live life to an epic status before that point.
I ended up getting accepted into St. Augustine College in Raleigh, NC. After I completed two semesters there, in 2008, I decided to return to Myrtle Beach and become active duty military. My new career was in military intelligence, and I was stationed in Baltimore, MD.
My first daughter was born during this time, and her mother lived in Georgia. In 2009 I deployed to Afghanistan for six months. When I returned, I became an instructor training others in my job field. One of my fellow instructors was scheduled to go to Afghanistan, and found out his wife might loose his baby. So I volunteered to take his place so he could remain with his wife, and I took his tour in Afghanistan. Once I got back from that second deployment, I decided to re-enlist, and requested to be stationed in Georgia so I could be closer to my daughter and build a relationship with her.
After six months, I was again deployed to Afghanistan for a year. After I returned home, I married a woman I had met in Baltimore during my initial enlistment and we had a son together. I served a total of ten years in the military, then decided that with as much as I had deployed, my family was more important than my being gone all the time.
After I got out of the military in 2013, my wife and I decided to move back to Myrtle Beach. Not long after that, we added my youngest daughter to our family. And I started a career continuing my father’s business in landscaping. Towards the latter part of five years, I found myself unhappy with my career and life in general. I always wanted to be part of a higher purpose, and something was missing.
When I was in Afghanistan, I remember one night wearing my uniform and seeing my shadow on the road in front of me and feeling so proud of my silhouette. But now, I just felt empty inside. For months on end my wife would invite me to come with her and the children to church on Sunday, and I always refused.
One day, I found out my grandfather was on his deathbed. I wanted to apologize to him in person before he passed away that I hadn’t been there throughout the last years of his life when he had been alone and partially blind. Even though I was back in the states, and he lived in Charlotte, I wasn’t making the time to take his great-grandchildren to see him. I visited him and told him how I felt. He couldn’t speak, but he looked up at me and grabbed my hands and smiled. And I just began to cry. Not long after that he passed away.
Over the next couple of weeks, right before his funeral, I found out that my grandfather had become involved in the church the day his son, my father, had died. At my grandfather’s funeral, the pastor who lead the service had been best friends with both my father and grandfather. He called me, my brother and cousins up to the altar, and prayed over us. He told us, “It’s time to pick up the torch and become the men of God that your father and grandfather were.” And I was like, “Yeah, okay, whatever.”
Over the years, seeing so many people die in Afghanistan, friends, soldiers, my father— death didn’t really affect me. But believe it or not, that very Sunday I ended up going to church. I couldn’t get what he had said out of my mind. And I haven’t missed a week since until Covid started.
When I started going, at that point I was seeking something, but I didn’t believe in Jesus. I can remember at times in Afghanistan, definitely praying to God, but I didn’t have any relationship with Jesus.
Within that time frame, in looking for purpose, my brother and I started coming up with ideas for non-profits that we wanted to create. We started hosting cookouts for kids in certain neighborhoods— kids that we believed were forgotten. And somewhere in the midst of that, I dedicated my life to Jesus.
Also in the midst of that— the transformation and the feeling of being set free from all of the things I had done in my past and all the weight of my past— Hurricane Florence hit our coast. I evacuated to Charlotte, but once the hurricane hit Myrtle Beach, I felt this prompting that I needed to come back.
I realized that the flood waters were starting to rise and I wouldn’t be able to get back into Myrtle Beach unless I left then.
Along the drive back, my brother and I decided that we should get all of our landscaping equipment and head to North Carolina to get a head start on cleaning up from the hurricane devastation to make some extra money. So we packed up all our gear, and then I suddenly felt this presence come over me like I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to be doing.
I had the television on the weather channel in North Carolina, and I heard the mayor say, “We’re calling on all God’s children. We need food and water here.”
I called my brother and said, “We can’t do this, we need to do what we said we were going to do, which is non-profits.”
He agreed with me. So he got his grill, and I got mine and my mother’s, and we loaded them up on the landscaping trailer. Then we went to Food Lion.
Because of the hurricane, the Food Bank wasn’t picking up their usual donation, so Food Lion gave me what they normally would have given to them— which was a whole bunch of frozen meat. They also gave me a $100 gift card that I used to buy as much pasta and tomato sauce as I could.
Then I got that mayor’s phone number in NC, and I told him, “Sir, I heard your message and we’re coming. I can probably only feed 100 people, but we’re coming.” So they began a message and all these people were coming out to greet these two boys coming from Myrtle Beach.
I put out a message on Facebook, asking people if they had any extra supplies of water and food and we spent the rest of the day driving around collecting bottled water and extra goods. Then we got all of our cooking equipment, and got on the road heading north.
About an hour down the road, we hit a road block. And the sheriff monitoring it told us we couldn’t pass, that the entire road was under water. It would have taken us six days to drive around to where the road was not flooded. So we asked if there was anyone that needed help locally. We ended up in Southport, NC, at the fire station. The firemen sent us to a Baptist church on the coast, which had been getting calls all that morning with requests for help.
They were the only ones on the entire island that had power; and they had a full kitchen too. So my brother and I, both of whom had never worked in a commercial kitchen before, started cooking. We came thinking we had resources to feed 100, and the church had resources to feed 30. But we ended up making about five or six hundred meals. We started at 11am, and we didn’t leave until 9:30pm; it was non-stop. Everything we brought got used.
The local fire department was literally hiking to people to bring them meals, actually building bridges to get to people. They were bringing meals to other fire stations as well, for those firemen to distribute to the local community. Throughout the entire day, they kept returning and saying that they needed more meals. And every time we’d turn around, another person would show up with more food donations; so we just kept cooking.
The only resource that was cut off for us was running water. A 90-year-old woman quietly began washing the dishes with bottled water, and stayed all day long. She must have worked harder than anybody and never said a word about it.
That night, we took up a donation, and everyone contributed money. My brother and I drove back to Myrtle Beach that night and returned the next morning after going shopping for food at Sam’s Club. And we started cooking all over again. That next day, we did about 3-4 times what we had done the day before. After that, the Southern Baptist Association got wind of what we were doing, and showed up to take over.
On that mission with that hurricane, I believe I found my calling. It’s sharing the love of Jesus through food. So I continued disaster relief in the area, in Myrtle Beach and in Mullins. And once the disaster relief started to die out, then I started to feed the homeless. But I was limited in what I could do because I had no commercial kitchen space; I was on the lookout for one.
A little while later, we had made eighteen full Thanksgiving meals for people affected by the hurricane, and I passed them out to homeless people living in the woods. When everyone had been fed, I still had one extra meal leftover. I asked the homeless people if they knew of anyone else who needed a meal. And they pointed me across the street. It was a place, which frankly, I was nervous to go. My entire life I had been warned not to go there. So I drove into the neighborhood and I met a man, and asked him if he knew anyone who needed a meal.
He looked me square in the eye and told me that everyone in the neighborhood needed a meal. I told him that I would be back, and I’ve been there every third Saturday ever since, feeding people.
One day, I heard about a woman in that neighborhood who had no legs and no one to help her, and I began helping to feed her. Someone recommended Meals on Wheels to get her consistent help.
When I met with the woman in charge of the Myrtle Beach chapter, she told me that she had run out of funding and was going to shut down at the end of the month. Every Meals on Wheels is an individual non-profit that advocates for seniors but receives no government funding; all funding comes from our local community. I asked her if I could help in any way. And she told me I could: that I could take it over.
So I asked her for the list of names of people that she was currently helping, and I ended up there that very day cooking in her kitchen. And here I am, a year-and-a-half later.
Every step of this plan that is my life, I feel God planned. I feel like I’ve never been at more peace and joy and I’m truly blessed that God has chosen me to do what I’m doing. Everything I’ve seen has been a blessing from God. We pray for specific things, and they will literally walk in the door 48 hours later.
The community has really stepped up. We don’t have many recurring donors, but things just manifest for us. Every day there are miracles happening all around us.
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