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On Great Causes: Inner Workings of a Meals on Wheels Service Member


A quiet carpark, ready (or not) for the day ahead. Our three chefs, Jody, Richard and Michael, saunter in before 6am, flicking on lights with a yawn and a stretch. Some days volunteers meet them with an enthusiastic energy, at other times they trickle in between 7 and 8. 

From the deafening silence of a little brick building surrounded by bush in an otherwise hustling Holland Park, to the roaring of ovens, the whirring of stick blenders and the rhythm of chop-chop-chop, the kitchen is now alive. Dancing to ABBA and singing to Queen, the chefs don’t do a lot of talking, but they certainly don’t work in silence.  

7:30 –  Getting the food ready

At 7:30, in March the admin ladies, Megan, Natalie and myself (Emily), not knowing what to expect as we pull open the heavy door. Sitting at our desks, watching the steam roll from the ovens, dabbing our faces from onion-induced tears and answering to the challenges that arise for chefs, volunteers and of course clients; each day brings a new adventure. 

When official volunteer arrival time comes around, there are salads to be madedesserts to be plated (everything from a light summer pav with peaches to a decadent chocolate cake) and a tonne of vegetables to peel, slice and dice. The aromas of a simmering curry or a fresh batch of banana caramel muffins is delectable and difficult to ignore as I sit here at the reception counter and try to get on with my daily duties (lots of maths, lots of writing articles and brain storming fun gifts for our clients and volunteers).  


9:00 –  Starting to Serve

Like clockwork, at nine o’clock, the tummies of admin and volunteers start to grumble as it’s time to sit down for tea and toasties. The paid driver of the day (Cathy, Phil or Tom) reports for duty by pulling on the warmest jacket they can and heading into the freezer as though on an Artic Rescue mission for frozen fish mornay and beef rissoles. 

Up to 500 meals can be made here in a day and vary from roast dinners to macaroni and cheese, steak and kidney casseroles to vegetarian cottage pie.  

Break time finishes in a flurry of beeps as the food is now perfectly cooked and ready for the line. Volunteers are assigned a station for plating, “rice, carrots, peas and lids”, with one chef serving up the daily protein choices and one banging the lids; it is time to proceed. Up to 500 meals can be made here in a day and vary from roast dinners to macaroni and cheese, steak and kidney casseroles to vegetarian cottage pie.  

Meanwhile, the office is in full flight, with a myriad of calls incoming, computers wreaking havoc and changes being made left, right and centre, there are labels flying across the room and coloured dots all over the place- it may not look like it, but it truly is a well-oiled machine. I am unsure that there is a more feel-good workplace around and count my blessings that I fit in so well here.  


11:00 –  Volunteers are our superheroes!

An exchange of volunteers at 11am, when the kitchen-hands head home and the drivers and aides arrive to deliver the food to the clients. If the building wasn’t buzzing before, it is now. Suddenly bursting at the seams with laughter and chattering, this is (besides the clients obviously) the reason we’re here. We create a safe, social environment where people can experience altruistic highs on a regular basis. 

Without our volunteers, kitchen and driver/aide teams included, we wouldn’t be able to go on. Saving us over $300,000 in wages every year, they are the only way we can enable people to continue their independent living.  

Without our volunteers, kitchen and driver/aide teams included, we wouldn’t be able to go on. Saving us over $300,000 in wages every year, they are the only way we can enable people to continue their independent living.  

Heading out on their runs to deliver joy in the form of food and a little social interaction to our clients, the volunteers can be out for anywhere between 45 and 90 minutes, depending on how far out and how many clients are on their run that day. All the while, in the kitchen there is a plethora of tasks taking place to ensure tomorrow will be another day of smooth sailing and the office is hurrying to get the lids, labels and other bits and pieces to the kitchen for a flawless (HA) process of raw ingredients to ready-to-eat meals.  

As there is no rhyme or reason to the length of a run, volunteers trickle back in with stories about Mrs Lee and Mr Davidson, while we navigate our mounds of paperwork and somehow remember which Mr Smith said what to which volunteer and decode it based on the innumerable pieces of information just floating about in our heads (some days are such a blur, it is insane that we actually come out the other side). Following their information offload to us here in the office, volunteers grab a lolly and head on their way until we meet again. 

Almost instantly appears a Mount Everest sized pile of eskies to clean and re-shelve for tomorrow, while avoiding the gushing water being used to scrub the kitchen floors so clean that you can see yourself in the terracotta tiles. There is a music quiz while the plants are being watered, and laughter 

It falls silent. The chefs are ready to head out the door for the day, all the whizzing, shuffling and scouring comes to a halt, the music is off, and if you’ve ever experienced being alone with your thoughts- this is it. A quick goodbye as we’ve only an hour left with paperwork to finalise and money to count and sort.  

2:30 –  Worth it

By the time 2:30 rolls around, if my hair was down this morning, it is definitely up in a ponytail now. Locking the keys away is such a good feeling, especially on a Friday afternoon. I’ve drawn the raffle, prepared the rosters and sign in sheets for the next week and everything looks fresh before we bombard our sweet little building with the messiness of our jobs, but hey it is so worth it for the end result.

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Meals on Wheels

Meals on Wheels People was founded in 1969 by three caring women, Jean WadeMartha Shull and Cay Kreiger, who saw a need in the community that was not being met. They gathered in the basement of the Lincoln Street Methodist Church in February 1970 to serve a hot lunch to about a dozen seniors and then delivered 14 Meals on Wheels on paper plates wrapped in newspaper.

Today the Meals on Wheels People produces 5,000 nutritious meals five days each week in a 14,000-square-foot commercial kitchen located in the heart of Multnomah Village. Meals are then delivered to dozens of dining centers throughout Multnomah, Washington and Clark counties where they are served at noon to older adults in center dining rooms or sent out as Meals on Wheels to frail, homebound elderly.

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Volunteers are the heart and soul of the Meals on Wheels People and we depend on more than 400 people every day to help prepare and deliver meals at the centers and to deliver Meals on Wheels. The volunteer with the friendly smile and hot meal is often the only person some of our homebound seniors will see on an average day. Find out more about volunteer opportunities.


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