New faces for Meals on Wheels

Meals on Wheels volunteers are ‘‘flat out’’ delivering meals to Dunedin residents, as the essential service grapples with the problem of not being able to count on most of its usual volunteers.

Age Concern executive officer Debbie George said there would be many new faces in the Dunedin Meals on Wheels team, as more than half its volunteers had been people over the age of 70.

Volunteers had since flooded in, but screening of those applicants would be a big job.

There were new procedures to be learned as well, including adjustments to the delivery process and strict physical distancing and hand-washing measures.

While it would not need more volunteers at this point, anyone who wanted to offer their assistance could check on their elderly family members and neighbours by phone, and still make a difference.

Providing groceries, medication and emotional support during the unprecedented lockdown would also be a focus for Age Concern.

Phone calls for a general check-in and “hopefully a laugh” had become a major part of its service, as anxiety and stress had increased for some.

“People are so fearful ... it’s settling into a new reality,” Ms George said.

There had also been concerns surrounding a potential spike in elderly abuse.

She said while there had been an “army” of people willing to help with providing groceries to the elderly, finding payment methods while maintaining no contact had posed challenges.

Countdown had prioritised online ordering for the elderly, which had helped relieve some pressure, but for those clients who did not have access to online banking and payments, they would have to find other ways.

She praised both the Dunedin City Council and the people of Otago for their support during a busy time, and said they knew how to come together as a community and offer help.

“Dunedin has the biggest, most beautiful heart.”

New Zealand Red Cross said the decision to continue Meals on Wheels would ensure the people it supported were cared for.

Red Cross Humanitarian Development general manager Shaun Greaves said people would be feeling particularly isolated during the lockdown.

“Our volunteers may check in with meal recipients, if they feel safe and comfortable to do so.

“We are asking though, that they keep a minimum distance of two metres and must not enter the house at any point.”

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