Drivers needed to move meals

Dunedin's Meals on Wheels service is in a tough spot, with volunteer driver numbers down and demand rising, causing Age Concern Otago to issue an urgent call for help. Brenda Harwood reports.

Kristen Beardsmore
Kristen Beardsmore
Age Concern Otago is facing a tough situation as rising demand and a sharp drop in volunteer driver numbers puts the Meals on Wheels service under pressure.

A perfect storm has hit the service this winter, with older volunteers retiring, people moving away for work and others on holiday combining with increased demand to leave Age Concern Otago Meals on Wheels volunteer driver co-ordinator Kristen Beardsmore desperate.

''In fact, in the two years I have been co-ordinating the volunteers, this is the most desperate we have been,'' Mrs Beardsmore said.

Drawn from a pool of about 500 Age Concern volunteers, drivers deliver meals up to five times a week to mostly older people in 21 ''runs'' across Dunedin. There are 277 individual and corporate volunteers on the books, with a further 200 volunteers coming through eight Dunedin service clubs, to cover a four-week roster.

The Wakari Meals on Wheels run, established last year in response to rising demand, had been hard-hit, with 10 of the 60 regular volunteers unable to help. Green Island was also struggling, Mrs Beardsmore said.

''To be in a more comfortable position, we need up to another 50 volunteers.''

It would be ideal to have enough volunteers to have some people as ''reserves'' to provide cover.

Meals on Wheels is subsidised by the Southern District Health Board, prepared in the Dunedin Hospital kitchen, and delivered throughout greater Dunedin to about 350 people. Volunteer drivers are co-ordinated by Age Concern in Dunedin and Green Island, by Red Cross in Mosgiel, while in Port Chalmers, local drivers organise themselves.

Between June 2013 and June 2014, 65,443 meals were delivered, with the vast majority (46,610) delivered by Age Concern volunteers.

Dunedin Hospital Meals on Wheels co-ordinator Allison Stewart said demand for meals had been steadily increasing in recent years and volunteer drivers were vital to the service.

''Meals on Wheels is a relatively simple way to make a lot of difference to people's lives.''

''And not only do the drivers provide people with a meal, they also provide contact and a check on older people living at home,'' she said.

Volunteer driver and Octagon Club president Betty Booth said the visit of a driver was a chance for people to have social contact, especially people who were frail and unable to get out.

''Meals on Wheels can be a lifeline for some people, and it is an easy gift to give.''

Former student Kris Collins, a volunteer driver for two years, said taking on the role gave ''a real insight into the community''.

Red Cross Mosgiel co-ordinator Winifred Harrix said the service was in a ''reasonable'' position, with about 60 drivers on the books, but more volunteers would be welcome. Port Chalmers co-ordinator Jennifer Mains said the local service was in good heart. 

• The Meals on Wheels service was instigated by the Otago Old People's Welfare Council (now Age Concern Otago) in 1954.350 people regularly receive Meals on Wheels in the greater Dunedin area.

• About 200 meals are delivered each week day.

• The meals are subsidised by the Southern District Health Board, keeping the cost down to $5 for recipients.

• Meals on Wheels volunteers are co-ordinated by Age Concern Otago, Red Cross Mosgiel, and through a privately organised roster in Port Chalmers.

• To volunteer as a Meals on Wheels driver, phone Kristen Beardsmore at Age Concern on 477-1040 ext 704.

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