Volunteers unhappy at meals plan

A proposal to outsource meals on wheels could put drivers in an ''awkward position'' because they volunteer to help the community, not a multinational company, historian and long-serving meals on wheels driver Dr Terry Hearn says.

This week Age Concern Otago confirmed a driver resigned in protest over the plan, and a handful of other volunteers were unhappy about it.

The Southern District Health Board will decide next month whether to outsource its kitchens to the Compass Group.

The plan involves trucking frozen meals from Auckland and has sparked community opposition.

Dr Hearn, of Dunedin, said he would wait and see what happened before deciding whether to quit the service he has provided for the ''best part of 20 years''.

''I think many drivers will find themselves wishing to continue to assist the elderly and disabled, but unwilling to shore up the profits of a private corporation.

''The suggestion might well be made that drivers should charge - but that would be to destroy the whole idea of voluntary service that is involved and would quickly see the additional costs involved passed on to those who receive the meals.''

Dr Hearn took exception to board chairman Joe Butterfield's reported comments yesterday that volunteers who quit the service would be doing a ''disservice''.

''Meals on wheels drivers are hardly likely to be encouraged by an approach that really amounts to little more than a silly effort to bully drivers,'' he said.

Another meals on wheels driver, who did not provide confirmed contact details, said they would continue delivering meals because otherwise recipients would suffer.

''However, I am not sure I would like to eat meals that were trucked all the way from Auckland.''

Another driver who did not provide a confirmed contact said in an email she was concerned for the future of the service if the plan devised by a ''dingbat bureaucrat'' went ahead.

She and her husband would both quit if the change went ahead.

The story sparked lively debate on the ODT website, where most commenters support the driver's decision to resign.

If adopted, the plan will reportedly save the cash-strapped health board $6.96 million or more over 15 years.

eileen.goodwin@odt.co.nz

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