Young people step up to help Meals on Wheels

Young volunteers are stepping up to help Meals on Wheels deliver food to the vulnerable, allowing its older regular volunteers to cocoon.
Young people step up to help Meals on Wheels
Meals on Wheels volunteer Andrew Lane. Pictures: Larry Cummins

Young volunteers are stepping up to help Meals on Wheels deliver food to the vulnerable, allowing its older regular volunteers to cocoon.

The service in Faranree which delivers 60 hot meals to homes in the north of Cork city each week has seen a jump from five to 24 volunteers since it registered with Cork Volunteer Centre for extra help through the coronavirus pandemic.

Russell Bevan, secretary of Farranree Community Association, said that before the service had relied on “begging your wife and two gentleman of advanced years to keep helping you” — but now he has the opposite problem of making sure that there’s space to include everyone on the roster.

“Over 80% of our new volunteers are tender in years, which offers great hope that going forward the country and charities in particular, will be in safe hands,” he said.

One of the new volunteers reaching across the generational divide to help is Andrew Lane, 20, a student at Cork School of Music: “I wanted to try to do something to help during this difficult time. Helping the elderly really appealed. I’m very close to my own grandparents, I can’t see them at the moment and I’d like to think that someone would be there to help them.”

I’ll look back on this time and be thankful that I didn’t just sit at home watching Netflix — I did something to try to help.

Andrew has completed two shifts with Meals on Wheels but he is hoping to work with them every day next week: “I think inter-generational support is so important, both for the old and the young. I’ve learned so much already and I’m sure I’ll learn a lot more over the coming weeks.”

“A lot of people have been saying how great it is to see the youth involved in Meals on Wheels now, they said they’d be lost without me, which really touches the heart strings. Whenever I went up to house, I was greeted by a big smile. You give people their food and chat for about five minutes — in full PPE and staying six feet away.

“I know it brings a smile to their faces but helping them also makes me happy myself.”

Noel Brady loads in meals for delivery.
Noel Brady loads in meals for delivery.

Neville McGrath, 81, is one of three regular drivers with the service who was “reluctantly” forced to cocoon through the coronavirus outbreak.

Neville started volunteering with the service following his wife’s death five years ago and was voted North Cork’s Volunteer of the Year in 2019.

“I really enjoyed volunteering until the coronavirus came and my son and daughters asked me to stop,” Neville said.

“Cocooning has been the worst experience of my life. It’s completely depressing. It annoys me that I can’t do everything for myself anymore and it makes me realise that something bad is happening out there.

"But I think it’s very good of young people to help out. I’m retired so it’s easier for me to volunteer but it must be difficult for younger people who have other things going on.”

Russell Bevan said that new protocols and procedures have had to be put in place at the charity and new equipment purchased to adhere to the Government’s health guidelines.

Now just one person - not two - cooks the 60 meals per day. The usual ‘cuppa and catch-up’ amongst volunteers before delivery is gone, and the chef and drivers have no contact at all.

Meals are served in biodegradable meal boxes to avoid possible contamination while handling plates or washing up. And Volunteers wear PPE on their delivery rounds and sanitise their hands between each delivery.

“It has caused a lot of upheaval but with the right people and a ‘will do’ attitude we have managed to continue running the service without any interruption to our normal timetable,” Russell said.

“The negatives are more work for the now single person in the kitchen, the additional cost incurred from having to change the structure of how we run the service and more importantly the loss of interaction with the meal recipient due to the social distancing guidelines.”

But it has brought more young people to the service.

“It is to be hoped that most, if not all, of those who have recently volunteered will stay with us after this crisis ends, obviously only time will tell, but ..I am confident that the future will be bright for us all,” Russell said.

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