8 April 2020

Meals on Wheels funding a relief for more than just food

| Michael Weaver
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Mels on Wheels volunteers

Meals on Wheels volunteers in Queanbeyan, from left, Suzy Bull, Gayle Doyle, Tracey Knox, Sue Gray and manager Helen DeBritt serving a great sticky date pudding with butterscotch sauce. Photo: Michael Weaver.

Demand for Meals on Wheels has increased by about 30 per cent recently, but there’s one item that has proven to be as popular as the food. Toilet paper.

The regional manager for Red Cross ACT and South-East NSW, Mark Duggan, told Region Media that once word spread that their allocation had arrived, people were signing on with Meals on Wheels just for the toilet paper.

“We recently received a pallet of toilet paper from Woolworths and we had a couple of people ring up about it and tell us they wanted to get Meals on Wheels and they didn’t care how much it cost. They just wanted the toilet paper.

“Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work like that,” Mr Duggan said.

Thankfully, there has also been an increase in funding for the service that is easing the pressure on the elderly having to rely on going to a supermarket for their meals and necessities.

Mr Duggan said the number of volunteers who are giving their time to help deliver Meals on Wheels has also increased.

“We’ve had no significant loss of resources as people who have found themselves with fewer hours in their jobs, or who have lost their jobs, are wanting to become volunteers with us.”

Mr Duggan said there have been a few delays with obtaining the relevant police checks, but once people are cleared to go, the Red Cross (which administers Meals on Wheels in the ACT) welcomes the extra hands.

“Many of our volunteers are elderly and haven’t been able to do as much as they have wanted to, so we’ve welcomed lots of new enquiries for volunteers,” he said.

“We’ve also seen a significant increase in demand for Meals on Wheels. We’ve gone from 5500 meals a month to more than 7300 meals a month now.

“Our suppliers have guaranteed the supply of meals too, which is great.”

Mr Duggan also welcomed the federal government’s additional funding of $59.3 million for Meals on Wheels and similar support services.

He said their delivery service has moved away from daily deliveries to weekly and fortnightly due to the need for frozen meals, so long as the client has the freezer capacity.

“We still ring the client in the morning to make sure they’re okay and our staff or volunteers leave the meal at the door and let the client know that it’s there, whereas previously, there was lots of conversation and time for a cup of tea which is part of the social inclusion work that we do.

“We’ve just had to adjust our model to check in on our clients’ welfare by telephone. Everyone who wants a meal is getting a meal and we’re still seeing more calls come through,” Mr Duggan said.

There are 160 volunteers and 20 staff who deliver Meals on Wheels in the ACT, as senior residents across the country are being urged to follow COVID-19 restrictions and stay home.

Meals on Wheels volunteers

Meals on Wheels volunteers are always needed. Photo: Supplied.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government’s funding package for senior Australians would mean more people will look for support from community food programs such as Meals on Wheels.

In total, $50 million will fund 3.4 million meals for 41,000 people for six weeks – the equivalent of two meals a day.

The remaining $9.3 million will be used to buy 36,000 emergency food supply boxes.

The funding will prioritise home delivery for senior Australians registered with My Aged Care who are isolated and don’t have access to the internet. They will be able to call the My Aged Care contact centre directly for access to basic food and necessities.

An extra $50 million will support aged care providers with more flexibility under the Commonwealth Home Support Programme (CHSP).

The funding will also work with supermarkets and commercial providers to support Meals on Wheels services, including airlines and the entertainment industry that now have spare capacity.

It’s hoped local catering businesses, particularly in regional areas, will also continue operating and supporting CHSP services.

Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt said the meal delivery service was another important step in protecting senior Australians from COVID-19.

“The wellbeing of older Australians remains a priority. We are supporting them so they can remain safely in their own homes,” Mr Hunt said.

People wanting to access Meals on Wheels or who would like become a volunteer should phone the Red Cross in Canberra on 6234 7663, or 6299 3000 for the Queanbeyan area.

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