When we first heard about emerging cases of Coronavirus earlier this year, none of us could have imagined the impact it would have on our lives and communities.

Some three months later and a sense of normality has begun to return with the easing of restrictions. Now, we can take a moment to reflect on how we stepped up to the plate and supported our valued customers and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For many older Australians, the term ‘isolation’ is not unfamiliar…it’s something they have been experiencing for years.

For our customers, the delivery of a nutritious meal by our friendly, dedicated volunteers every week is essential to their health and wellbeing. Meals on Wheels SA plays a vital role in keeping them nourished, well and socially connected.

When the prospect of leaving home to buy groceries was scary, staple food items were in short supply, and dining out was no longer an option, older Australians faced even more uncertainty around food security.

During the peak pandemic period, we received more than twice the usual number of requests for help, while existing customers increased their orders. Overall, we now have more than 10% more service users and 15% more daily meal deliveries than before the pandemic. This demonstrates the increased prevalence of food insecurity within our communities, as a result of COVID-19.

When the Government urged people to ‘self isolate’ in their homes, particularly members of the community aged over 70, Meals on Wheels SA was met with a number of challenges.

Our service relies heavily on our 7,000 volunteers and with majority of them falling in the ‘high risk’ age group, this meant we had to adapt to ensure we could continue to support our customers through the pandemic.

After all, they needed us now more than ever.

Nevertheless, Meals on Wheels SA rose to the occasion to keep vulnerable South Australians, nourished and well.

Faced with reduced volunteer participation, social distancing restrictions and an increase in demand for meals, we turned to frozen meals to ensure we could continue to meet our customers’ needs.

We partnered with Adelaide Venue Management Corporation and Foodbank to rapidly increase our frozen meal supply and distribution capacity. Between March and April, we made 150,000 delivery visits to supply 175,000 meals to the South Australian community.

We put out a call for emergency volunteer reinforcements and the South Australian community responded magnificently. Three years’ worth of new volunteer enquiries were received in just three weeks! Meanwhile, the majority of our regular volunteers chose to continue their rostered tasks and many took on additional shifts. Others stayed involved by telephoning customers to provide social support and make sure they were well on the days they would usually have received a hot meal delivery.

No one went hungry, and our customers willingly adapted to contactless delivery procedures.

We are immensely proud of the versatility of our staff and volunteer workforce, which allowed us to continue to support vulnerable members of our community through the pandemic.

One customer called to tell us how invaluable our volunteers’ support had been during the pandemic.

“Gary dropped my meals off every Wednesday and would always stand in the front yard for a chat while making a fuss of my dog. Wendy rang me almost every day to make sure that I was okay. 

“I have no one in the world, besides my dog. Gary and Wendy virtually saved my life. It means so much to know that those two people were there for me and took the time to make me feel valued.

 “Those couple of minutes made a huge difference to my life.”

The public has recognised Meals on Wheels SA as one of the organisations doing a great job in the community during the pandemic (McGregor Tan research).

We are pleased that all branches have now returned to delivering a choice of hot meals, as well as frozen meals for those who prefer the convenience. We will be able to respond smoothly if pandemic conditions worsen in the coming months.

From everyone at Meals on Wheels SA, we’d like to thank you for your valued support during this difficult time.