Every Wednesday for lunch, long-time Queanbeyan residents Max and Jean Murphy sit with a table of their friends at the Axis Youth Centre.
Max says he’s never been much of a cook. Jean has cataracts and will soon have surgery to correct her vision. Both have mobility issues.
Sitting on the same table is their spritely 96-year-old friend Doreen, where the conversation about their week flows freely, along with a homemade, delicious butterscotch sauce that adorns plates of sticky date pudding.
The dessert is sweet but the conversation is sweeter. You soon realise that this weekly ritual, organised by Queanbeyan Meals on Wheels, is about so much more than a plate of food.
Queanbeyan Meals on Wheels coordinator Helen DeBritt is one of more than 70,000 volunteers Australia-wide. She is at the frontline, preparing and delivering around 1200 meals a month to Queanbeyan and beyond. It also delivers to Bungendore, Braidwood, Captains Flat, Sutton and Michelago. There is also the weekly gathering where a bus from Valmar Support Services makes sure everyone gets to the weekly lunch.
Helen tells Region Media that although the majority of their Meals on Wheels clients are not computer-savvy, they would like to reach more people online.
“We have a website and Facebook page, but it’s not well known,” Helen says.
“We’ve got a guy working on our website, but we need to do a fair bit of work there.
“We want to have our application forms online so we can reach a broader range of people, not just the elderly.”
Helen would like to expand the services that Meals on Wheels provides. After working most of her life in the health sector, she is now working five days a week as a volunteer to make sure the service nourishes those who need it most.
“Meals on Wheels is a very well known organisation, but it’s also taken for granted,” Helen says.
“I hear people say that when they get old, they’ll have to have Meals on Wheels. But we want it to be more than that and expand our services to younger people who are looking at websites.
“Older people are not really savvy around computers, so while we will always speak to them via our traditional means, we also need to target the younger generation through social media and all that.
“We don’t knock anyone back and we visit a lot more younger people these days.”
Regardless of your age, Helen says Meals on Wheels provides much more than a nourishing meal, which is why they’re looking for volunteers.
Volunteers provide daily contact with clients, which helps reduce their social isolation and mental health concerns. The service also provides regular discussions about general health and welfare.
“We have clients who don’t see anyone during the week other than the volunteer delivering their meal,” Helen says.
“Often, we are their only social interaction. Our clients love a chat, so that social interaction is a crucial part of what we do. They look forward to seeing someone every day.”
The service largely relies on federal and state government funding but also receives generous donations from organisations such as the Queanbeyan Rodeo Association.
“It always makes such a big difference to their day and their week,” says Helen.
“It’s an opportunity to have a freshly cooked meal and catch up with their friends. It’s a very important social occasion for them.”
(And did we mention they make a great sticky date pudding?)
Queanbeyan Meals on Wheels has been operating for 49 years. They are currently looking for more volunteers, so if you would like to get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Queanbeyan Meals on Wheels on Facebook.