The volunteers are keen and the kitchen is buzzing. But the manager of Charlestown’s Meals on Wheels branch, Leanne Rodwell, says the community is not utilising the food delivery service to its full capacity.
Over “the past few years” Ms Rodwell has seen the branch’s number of clients drop by a third.
This is despite the fact that Charlestown is one of only 19 Meals on Wheels branches in the state that freshly cooks all items on its menus. There are 170 branches in operation.
“Certainly we can manage more clients than we do,” Ms Rodwell said.
“We’ve been in operation 50 years this year,” she said. “And we’ve always had good volunteer numbers, we’re very proud of that.
“Goods are all purchased locally, all our vegetables, all our meat. We have wonderful suppliers here in Newcastle.”
Ms Rodwell said that at its peak, Charlestown was making and taking food to 300 clients on delivery days. By 2018 that number had dwindled to 180. In the past six months the service has seen a turnaround, picking up 20 new clients.
NSW Meals on Wheels manager of strategy and support Gail Carroll said the organisation had seen a decrease in participants across “smaller” services, including Charlestown. The statewide organisation receives about a third of its income from government funding.
“Charlestown are a fabulous service, they’re focused and resilient,” Ms Carroll said. “It’s important there’s awareness in the local area to receive referrals.
“We need to support smaller services in NSW to ensure the sustainability of their service.”
Ms Rodwell believes the decline is due to the growing availability of for-profit food services.
Her branch produces up to seven three-course meals a week for participants, delivered over three days. Each meal is $8.
Ms Rodwell said she was concerned other catering businesses did not provide the face-to-face time with clients her volunteers took pride in.
“It’s good there’s choice for the clients but some of the services bulk deliver frozen meals,” she said.
“We pop in and make sure they are okay. We do an informal wellness check on our clients.
“If there is a possible issue we contact an ambulance or contact a family member to check on them,” she said.
“It’s about seeing a friendly face, someone to build a relationship with.”
Robert Brown of Valentine said his parents were “impressed” with the branch’s meals.
“If they weren’t they wouldn’t stay on it,” Mr Brown said.
“I’m usually out when they get it, and I often wish there is one for me because it’s so good.”