ON August 25 Australia will celebrate National Meals on Wheels Day.
The volunteer-run home delivery service has supported the elderly for over 65 years as an essential piece of social infrastructure, providing meals to community members who are at risk of malnourishment and social isolation.
Heather has been volunteering at Meals on Wheels for over a decade and views her contribution as nothing more than a neighbourly thing to do.
“It is a satisfying form of charity and I think it is a very useful service for those who are isolated,” she said.
“It is rewarding to know that you can keep the elderly in their homes.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a bump on the road for Meals on Wheels services.
Heather reflects on the way COVID precautions like social-distance drop-offs has made checking in on the elderly a difficult task.
“We used to go in and have a chat, see how they were going,” she said.
“In recent times that has not been possible.”
President of Meals on Wheels Sharyn Broer stated in the 2019-2020 Annual Report, the pandemic brought about a “turbulent and challenging year.”
“Many of our older volunteers took a break from their usual duties for their health and safety, and younger volunteers stood up to support a significant increase in new customers,” Ms Broer said.
BASSCare is one of the 592 grassroots services that administer Meals on Wheels.
Volunteer coordinator at BASSCare, Debbie Hall has noticed a reduction in volunteer numbers.
“We have had steady increases in the number of Meals on Wheels clients, yet volunteer numbers have fluctuated in the last year given initial COVID concerns,” she said.
Amidst these difficulties, the service managed to rev its engines and tend to the increase in client and meal demands.
The annual report found a 28 per cent increase in meals and a 22 per cent client base increase in Victoria alone.
The pandemic also limited human connection between volunteers and elderly meal recipients.
David, a Meals on Wheels volunteer for six and a half years, sees the opportunity to connect with the elderly as vital as the food deliveries.
“You can tell when I ring the doorbell and they come to the door, they are well and truly up for a chat,” he said.
“You don’t intrude on their lives, but you get to be an expert at their favourite topics which lights up their face.”
For one of David’s regulars, it is talking about her grandson’s football games.
“It is the personal one on one contact they are looking for,” he said.
For volunteers like Gill, Meals on Wheels has head lighted the presence of vulnerability in every community.
“The houses that usually catch the attention of onlookers are the big, glitzy ones,” she said.
“In the same street, there could be a house which looks abandoned with overgrown gardens and a general lack of life.
“A lot of people we deliver to are like this, not very visible.”
Meals on Wheels currently supports 200,000 older Australian’s every year and has over 45,000 active volunteers.