MEALS on Wheels is celebrating 60 years in Cork — with 48 services now available across the city and county, providing not only nourishment, but also social support to thousands of people.
A total of 430,564 meals are served every year — 361,564 delivered and 69,108 sit down meals, with people paying an average of €4.50 per meal.
The Community Work Department of the HSE decided to honour the work of Cork volunteers in Meals on Wheels on International Volunteers Day, this month. An event was hosted at Oriel House, in Ballincollig, where representatives from each of the 48 services in Cork were presented with a certificate of appreciation.
We spoke to some of those present — some of whom have been volunteering with Meals on Wheels for up to 50 years — and got an insight into the services provided.
Mary O Riordan, of Kilnamartyra, says she loves volunteering with the service.
“We work four days a week. I just love it. I’ve been doing it for 13 years and like to see that I’m being of some benefit to people. I love chatting to people.
“It’s hard now though to get volunteers. With the rising cost of child care, many retired people are minding the grandchildren. They’re not free then for meals and wheels.
“Another challenge can be that in rural communities some are reluctant to use the service. Maybe it’s a matter of pride. But once they start, there’s no going back. And even then there’s some bachelors who won’t avail of us, they say they cook for themselves but we know otherwise.”
Maire Mhicsuibhne volunteers at Ionad Lae in Ballyvourney. That service began in 2009/2010. She and Mary O’Riordan often work together to provide the meals on wheels for their communities and Marie does what she calls “a mountain of paperwork for both services”.
She says: “There are a lot of very isolated clients in rural communities. And, as Mary said, it’s hard to get volunteers with grandparents helping out with so much of the childminding.
“I began as Manager of the Community Services programme and we organised meals at the centre. Then we found there was a demand from people who had no transport. The district nurse and the local doctor refer people to us.
“The downside is that there isn’t enough time to spend with vulnerable people, as there is food still in the car waiting to be delivered to people who look forward to a hot meal.
“We do work closely with the home care assistants and keep in phone contact if there’s a client we’re particularly concerned about.”
Brian Cullen volunteers with St Mary Senior Citizen’s Knocknaheeny, who provide the meals on wheels service. He began volunteering in April this year.
He says: “I saw there’s a lot of older people who needed support. It’s all about connecting with the outside world and I love it. There’s something new every day.
“This year we had transition students help us out and it’s great. That could be a good way of getting young people inspired and interested in volunteering. There could be more collaboration between schools and services.
“It’s hard to get retired people because they’re either minding their grandchildren or in need of the service themselves.
“Maura Fitzgerald started the service 30 years ago. Recently she stepped down from the committee and Breda McNamara took over. But Maura still attends the centre, which is great. The MC here today is her son, Tony Fitzgerald, a former Lord Mayor of Cork. We now have a state of the art centre attached to the old folks’ apartments. Maura enjoys the bingo, craic and other activities.”
Vera O’Sullivan is from Farranree. She began with Farranree Community Association in the mid 1970s and says: “Not long after that, the meals on wheels service started and I began as a volunteer. We’re lucky to have great CE workers who do all the meal preparation and the cooking. Volunteers need to be asked personally. We put a request for volunteers on the parish newsletter. Imagine, one person phoned me and asked if they would be paid?
“We work in pairs, one person driving and one person giving out the meals. I love going out and meeting the people. I must pay special thanks to the great CE workers. And one in particular I have to name, Michael O’ Leary. When he finished on the CE scheme, he stayed on as a volunteer. The year of the bad snow he drove from Blackrock to Farranee and, along with other volunteers, took meals to people on foot.”
Kathleen Canty, from Bandon, has been with meals on wheels for over 50 years. “It began with the community and geriatric council in the late ’60s. There was a whole mixture of people and groups got together and from the different churches. They saw a need for meals on wheels in the town.
"I was in the Legion of Mary then and they were involved so that meant I got involved. In the beginning, we cooked the meals as well as delivering them. There was an awful lot of spuds to peel. I did, and still do, the first Saturday of the month. Nowadays, a local butcher prepares the meals and we deliver them cold. Everyone has a microwave and heats the food, as they need it. Special diets are also catered for and peoples personal preferences. We go to the surrounding areas also.
“People refer themselves, or the public nurse or doctor refers them. We have a great team in Bandon and wonderful support from St Michael’s Centre for Older People, where we operate from. I love meeting the people. It might be the only time the silence and loneliness is broken.”
A Study of the meals on wheels services in Cork city and county, conducted by Dr Cormac Sheehan and Grace Kelly, was presented at the event. It reported that on any given day throughout Cork, meals are delivered to people in need of nutrition and social support. There are now 48 centres operating in Cork city and county, staffed by 89% volunteers, 6% CE workers, and 5% paid staff. The average cost of a delivered meal is €4.52.