It was the one Thursday morning the Young Meals on Wheels team possibly didn’t need to be dealing with the media.
It was 9 o’clock, and they were one person down, so answers to questions came from everywhere – the kitchen, the office and anywhere in between – as Janelle Eastlake ferried a phone around Young’s Marie McCormick Community Centre, the hub of all things Meals on Wheels in the Hilltops local government area.
Now in their 60th year, it’s evident nothing, but nothing, not even a COVID epidemic, fazes this team as they churn out weekly meals for some 200 clients in locations stretching from Young to Boorowa to Harden-Murrumburrah and Jugiong.
“Yeah, we didn’t even close during COVID lockdowns thanks to emergency services crews who took on the deliveries,” Janelle said.
Janelle is in her first year as team support manager for the Young branch of Meals on Wheels, and said 2023 was significant for the national Meals on Wheels organisation as it celebrated its 70th year in August.
Australia’s Meals on Wheels journey began in 1953 when a Mrs E Watts pedalled her tricycle around South Melbourne, delivering meals to the needy.
Ten years later, in 1963, the service reached Young, operating from a small shopfront in Cloete Street, where fundraising activities would ensure the elderly in the shire were sustained and supported with a hot, nutritious meal.
It was – and still is – also about ensuring people who may not be able to get out and about enjoy regular social interaction and the comfort of knowing someone will drop by regularly to say hello and see how they are.
It’s incredible to think that, over six decades, Young’s Meals on Wheels has evolved to deliver some 25,000 meals in 2022; many of them hot meals daily within the Young township.
In that time, the geographic footprint expanded with the 2016 amalgamation of the three shires of Young, Boorowa and Harden-Murrumburrah, but the meal output continued thanks to a large army of about 140 volunteers, ranging from individuals to church groups, community service clubs and local businesses, all unfailingly doing their bit to pitch in with deliveries.
Complying with all the red tape and food safety regulations, there are 104 menu choices that can cater to diabetics and those with allergies, and meals can be pureed and cut up.
This has further advanced to include a frozen menu with 115 choices so not only the residents of Young but also those in outlying areas, could be provided for, says Janelle.
This decision has held them in good stead as the team – led by coordinator Jenny Rea – continues to deliver on all fronts.
Meals aside, the publication of a quarterly highly informative newsletter, arranged group outings, social gatherings and regular contact mean connections continue to sustain the increasingly growing ageing population.
So it was no surprise that not one but two large cream and strawberry-adorned cakes were recently rolled out to commemorate the milestone anniversary of what has become one of the Hilltops region’s most staunch community services.
Special guest, Member for Cootamundra Steph Cooke, told the gathering at the Young Services Club that Meals on Wheels was so much more than just a food delivery service, it was also a lifeline for the community.
“The service not only provides meals, but a sense of connection and community that is invaluable to those it serves, so this milestone is not just about the number of years they’ve been operating, but the number of lives touched and improved,” Ms Cooke said.
By delivering meals to the doorsteps of those in need, she said, Meals on Wheels enabled recipients to maintain their independence in their own homes.
Additionally, Ms Cooke said, the 140 volunteers who delivered those meals throughout the LGA served as friendly faces and a source of companionship for those who may otherwise be isolated.
“These visits provide crucial social interaction and welfare checks, helping to combat loneliness and depression, and promoting mental health and wellbeing,” she said.
“Families and caregivers also benefit from Meals on Wheels, as it offers them much-needed respite and assurance that their loved ones are cared for if they’re away.”
Ms Cooke congratulated and thanked everyone involved with Young Meals on Wheels.
“Past, present and future, your contribution is a shining example of what makes our Cootamundra electorate community so special.”
But, she said, support for the service was essential and she invited community members to support the organisation through volunteering, donations and spreading the word about the importance of its work.
People wishing to offer their services as volunteers for Meals on Wheels in the Hilltops region can do so by calling Jenny Rea on (02) 6382 5008.
Other people wishing to offer their support should visit the Meals on Wheels Australia website.