A day in the Life Of… a Meals on Wheels Volunteer
The first Meals on Wheels scheme ran in the UK in Welwyn Garden City in 1943, during WWII, when a severe outbreak of influenza prevented the elderly visiting the restaurants set up for them. Five meals were produced and carried to housebound people. The principles of this valuable service were quick to catch on, and in the early 1950's the Meals on Wheels service was introduced to the London Borough of Sutton. In 1990, for the first time in its history, meals began to be delivered seven days of the week, 365 days of the year, on all rounds across the borough.
In 2019 approximately 95,000 meals were delivered to Sutton’s clients. The aim of scheme is to provide nourishing, well balanced meals for housebound people in order to help them to continue to live in their own homes and to preserve their sense of independence. A variety of meals are supplied, including Diabetic, Kosher, Caribbean, Vegetarian and Soft Meals.
I have delivered weekend meals a part of my voluntary work for over 20 years, beginning during my time as a local council worker, and continuing into my retirement. I have always enjoyed working with the local community, helping the elderly and disabled, and taking a personal interest in them through conversations, and gaining real satisfaction in making a difference to their lives. Here is a typical day in my life as a volunteer recorded in summer this year...
On a sunny Saturday morning I make my way to the Sutton Inclusion Centre. This is where our local Meals and Wheels service operates, and our delivery vans are kept, and it is here where I will start my shift of driving and delivering hot meals on one of the four rounds carried out across the Borough of Sutton. A band of caterers responsible for cooking the frozen ready meals are bustling around in the purpose-built kitchen, where they make desserts, sandwiches and cakes every day. Later they will load the electrically pre-heated hot locks with the day’s meals and pack the tea bags into our vans. On today’s menu is sliced chicken in gravy with roast potatoes, carrots and peas plus sticky toffee pudding and custard…one of the truly satisfying meals that cost clients £3.70 a day.
By 11.15 a.m. I am on my way to see my first client. My van is loaded with a hot lock containing a total of 15 dinners and desserts - a reduced number today due to clients’ absences while they are in hospital or respite care. I’ve also loaded into the van a smaller number of individual packed tea bags with a filled sandwich, fresh fruit, cake or yogurt for some clients for their teatime meal.
11.25 Mrs M has impaired vision, and is sitting in her lounge when I arrive. After greeting me she asks me to put her meal in the oven to keep warm until she is ready to eat. We have a quick chat about the weather and her garden before I leave for next client.
11.35 Mrs L has mobility issues but is very cheerful when I arrive. She always tells me how much she enjoys her meals, and then we chat about the countries I have recently visited. In her younger days she and husband lived in various countries in Africa.
11.40 Parking in car park without having to pay is a euphoric feeling when my vehicle is a council owned van emblazoned with the logo and Meals and Wheels signs! I deliver to two clients in the vicinity – Mrs R, a confused lady who is always so grateful for her meal, and Mrs S who is very deaf and always has TV on at the highest decibel so no need for sustained conversation!
12.05 Mrs R’s residence is on a busy main road and again it is satisfying to park on yellow lines with hazards lights on whilst making my delivery!
12.10 Mrs H has mobility issues. She is often to be found in bed upstairs and I must take her meals there. I have been mistaken for her doctor; she carried on a conversation so adamant and involved that I firmly told her that I had more patients to visit and left!
12.20 Mrs B, a confused elderly lady, always greets me with the same words ‘aren’t you tall’? I laugh and set her meal out on table, and persuade her to eat before leaving.
12.40 My next clients are an elderly couple. The gentleman always seems to be at the door to let me in, ready and waiting for their meals.
12.50 Miss N appears from her bedroom when I announce my arrival. She is always appreciative of the delivery, and sometimes tells me she likes my outfits.
13.10 Having let myself in to Mrs C’s residence and announced ‘Meals on Wheels’ I got no response. I am required to search every room to satisfy that there is no one in residence, and will report back at the kitchen on my return. Sometimes the client may have been taken out by relatives or have gone into hospital and not informed the service. Back at the kitchen further investigations are made to ensure that Mrs C is safe.
13.20 Mrs S has mobility and health issues, and can be grumpy if she thinks I am late. I patiently explain that I am on my own driving and delivering, and the traffic at weekends can be challenging. This always elicits a conversation on traffic locally. Mrs S cheers up and is soon ready to enjoy her meal!
13.25 Mr & Mrs T, both with mobility and health issues, are patiently awaiting their meals and often wonder whether they will get any that day. I always reassure them that meals will be delivered every day.
13.30 Mr G is visually impaired and eagerly awaiting his meal. He is very pleased when I arrive!
13.40 Mr W is also visually impaired, and after announcing myself he very carefully opens his front door and tells me to leave his meal on a trolley just outside the door where he will collect it. It is always my worry that such vulnerable people are so determined to continue their fierce independence, although I can see their reasons why.
13.45 Back at the Inclusion Centre to off load equipment from the van and report back on any anomalies or concerns I have about my deliveries.
With the van put away and secured, the job is done and I’m on my way home! It’s a very busy schedule for a volunteer, and patience, respect and compassion are important qualities if you want to donate your time to this service. But, as you can see, there is never a dull minute, and I definitely think it’s worth my time!