Meals on Wheels: The Greek volunteer giving back to the needy in South Australia

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National Meals on Wheels Day is celebrated on August 31 this year.

The Greek Herald reports on an iconic service that has been operating and delivering meals to the community for more than 65 years in Australia. 

By Martina Simos

The original concept of social support for the community was simple – to keep the elderly in their homes while providing them with a nutritious meal. 

The idea of food delivery might have originated in England but it wasn’t long before Meals on Wheels began operating in Australia – with the concept of delivering meals spreading out to all the states.

History of Meals on Wheels:

There is conflicting information on the internet about the Australian origins of Meals on Wheels.

One internet site reports that Mrs E. Watts delivered the first meal in South Melbourne in 1953 on her tricycle. According to the report, she delivered soup, roast lamb and plum pudding. (The estimated cost in today’s currency is 13 cents).

One source says that Mrs E. Watts delivered the first meal in South Melbourne in 1953.

Initially the idea stemmed from England in the United Kingdom where the Women’s Volunteer service founded Meals on Wheels to provide food for the elderly who wanted to remain in their home.

Did it all start in South Australia?

Doris Taylor MBE had organised many relief efforts during the Great Depression and  was instrumental in lobbying for a Meals on Wheels service in South Australia.

It was her inspiration behind the first Meals on Wheels kitchen operating out of Port Adelaide in 1954. 

The late Donald Dunstan MP, who would later become the Premier of South Australia, was its first President.

Meals on Wheels Delivery, Cremorne 1965 in Australian Women’s Weekly.

In 1957, the first 150 meals were cooked in the Sydney Town Hall kitchen for inner-city dwellers and each meal cost two shillings. It was the Sydney City Council that was behind the idea of charging a small fee to be able to provide quality meals and to remove the stigma of charity. 

A South Australian resident explains why she volunteers:

More than 50 million meals have been delivered to South Australians since 1954, with the help of its 6000 volunteers across the state.

Meals on Wheels kitchen coordinator, 65-year-old Frida (For Greek: Φρειδερικη) volunteers at her local branch for four hours a day, four days a week, but also plans the delivery round for the fifth day.  

The mother of two adult sons Chris and Nick and grandmother to Max and Theo, hails from Kavala in Greece. She came to Australia aged 10 and her family lived in Melbourne but after she married, the opal town of Coober Pedy in South Australia became her home and later she moved to Adelaide so her sons could attend university.

Meals on Wheels kitchen coordinator, 65-year-old Frida (For Greek: Φρειδερικη) volunteers at her local branch.

Frida wanted to find a volunteer placement so she chose to help out at Meals on Wheels.

“My interest with Meals on Wheels started from Melbourne where my parents lived,’’ she said.

“My mother became ill when I was living in Greece at the time, so I arranged to have Meals On Wheels for my parents for a year until I returned back to take care of them.”

Her role as the kitchen coordinator involves doing the round sheets every day for the seven delivery rounds and sorting out meals for special needs clients who have different food requirements such as vegetarian, light bland, soft, minced and moist food.

Over 50 million meals have been delivered to South Australians since 1954, with the help of its 6000 volunteers across the state.

Frida says the Campbelltown branch is not a cook kitchen and all meals are delivered from the Hilton branch, but soups and meals are heated ready for delivery. While Greek meals are not on the menu, vegetarian moussaka that is made using lentils instead of mince is available for clients.

“In the Campbelltown area we deliver to very few Greek clients as the predominant nationality around the area is Italian,” she said.

“The Campbelltown branch is very close to my place of residence and I enjoy working with the other volunteers there.”

Frida’s working life came to stop due to knee problems and with adult sons, she found she had time on her hands to help others in the community.

“Volunteering provides me with a sense of purpose to help others that are in need,” she said.

“We hear so many disheartening stories about people nowadays and volunteering presents me with a way of doing something to make the world a better place.

“It gives me satisfaction that I have done a good deed for the community. I take pride in preparing a hot meal for our deliverers to deliver to someone who is frail, needy and alone at home waiting for a meal. 

“I can imagine these people feeling thankful not only for the hot meal but also seeing someone and having a conversation.  

“This thought alone brings a smile to my face and I think of my parents who were at one stage needy and Meals on Wheels provided for them and now I provide for others.”

Frida’s grandson helping her prepare meals.

Volunteering at Meals on Wheels:

There are different ways people can help out such as: assisting in preparing meals, delivering the meals to customers in their homes, administration tasks and social programs.

A spokesperson for Meals on Wheels (SA) Incorporated said their volunteers have ‘a fantastic mix of cultures, religions and perspectives.

“It is wonderful to see how everyone can get together and contribute in their own way,” Rhiannon Dyrynda, Meals on Wheels’ Workforce Administrator, said.

Sculpture commemorates 50 years of community service by the Meals on Wheels organisation in South Australia.

“Our volunteers don’t need a specific skill set – if you can peel a potato, wash dishes, do a bit of work on the computer, help out with our social programs or assist with deliveries, we could do with you. If not, we can teach you!

“Our volunteers often tell us how they gain great pleasure from the knowledge that they are helping people in their community. They can learn skills and gain friendships along the way.

“We are always looking for volunteers, both in metropolitan Adelaide and in country areas.”

Read more: Meals on Wheels Australia report finds ‘connection is key

Meals on Wheels Australia is the peak national body and every State and Territory is represented by their own peak body. To find out more about becoming a Meals on Wheels customer or volunteer at your local service, get in touch with the relevant State and Territory peak body below:

NSW: 1300 679 669, QLD: 1300 909 790, SA: 1800 854 453, TAS: 1800 696 325, Victoria: contact@mealsonwheelsvictoria.org.au, WA: contactwa@mealsonwheels.org.au, TAS: https://www.redcross.org.au or 1300 663 291, ACT: actmow@redcross.org.au or (02) 6285 8420

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