Meals on Wheels celebrates 70th anniversary

East Grampians Health Service celebrated Meals on Wheels Day with a morning tea for all volunteer meal deliverers.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of Meals on Wheels, a remarkable achievement for the organisation.

Meals on Wheels was established by South Australia’s Doris Taylor. Born in 1901, Doris became paralysed at age 11 after a fall, leaving her in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. In 1951 Doris took possession of a new motorised wheelchair.

Determined to become a useful member of society, her major concerns were always for the aged, the housebound and the disabled. Medical research confirmed Doris’s suspicions that the elderly deteriorated more rapidly – mentally and physically – when undernourished.

Doris realised elderly people were being institutionalised in psychiatric homes simply because they were undernourished.

After hearing of home-based meal services operating in England and South Melbourne, Doris struck on the concept for Meals on Wheels. One afternoon in October 1953, she pitched her idea to a meeting of 96 pensioners.

The first Meals on Wheels kitchen officially opened in Port Adelaide on 9 August 1954. Despite the lack of a working sink, 11 volunteers prepared and delivered eight meals.

Ten years after it began, Meals on Wheels served its millionth meal.

Today, Meals on Wheels delivers in excess of ten million meals to more than 120,000 clients Australia-wide each year.

“Here at EGHS, volunteers deliver approximately 115 meals to 32 consumers each week,” EGHS Home Support Coordinator Janelle Smith said.

“The service not only connects people and community but also builds strong relationships – Meals on Wheels volunteers do so much more than deliver meals.”

As an example, Ms Smith said one consumer was recently referred to the EGHS Healthy@Home program for wellbeing checks after a volunteer reported the consumer’s mental health was declining.

“Another volunteer has been spending time with a Meals on Wheels recipient as he recently lost his wife,” Ms Smith said.

“She commented that he had so many interesting stories and had led such an interesting life and sharing his memories of his life with his wife was helping him heal.

“It’s important to remember our recipients are more than elderly and vulnerable people, they are people who have had families and careers; they have lived through trauma and triumph. They have a lot of stories to tell, and they appreciate the opportunity to tell them.”

Ms Smith said the volunteers develop great empathy for their consumers.

“A volunteer hadn’t returned from his round and I called to make sure he was ok. He was just leaving a consumer’s home after spending time with him as he has no family in the area and his meal delivery is sometimes his only connection with another person,” Ms Smith said.

“The connection our volunteers have with our consumers is very real and very special.

“The work they do is incredibly important and valued and we would like to take this opportunity to thank all our volunteers. You really are the best kind of people and our community is so fortunate to have you.”

Pictured: Meals on Wheels volunteers Liz and Kate Arbon-Ellis with EGHS Volunteer Coordinator Lyn Russell