A typical round of deliveries for BASScare’s Meals on Wheels volunteers isn’t a quick affair.

Unlike the commercial food delivery services we have all grown used to, our volunteers don’t mumble “enjoy your meal” before hurrying off to their next delivery. Because for us, Meals on Wheels is so much more than the delivery of a hot meal. It’s a daily check-in on the welfare of our clients, it’s a connection to the community and for many of our long-time volunteers and clients it’s like dropping in on an old friend for a catch up.

Its success has made it a boon for older Australians focused on ‘ageing in place’.

A Daily Check In

Meals on Wheels is more than a meal. It’s also a daily welfare check. “On a particular day, if a client isn’t doing so well or isn’t feeling well, our volunteers bring that information back to us so that we are able to notify their carer or family member,” says Janet.

Our Volunteers are also happy to pull rubbish bins in off the nature strip, check the mail boxes or even post letters. And for some of our clients we even help opening up the lids of the containers and get cutlery out to set a place at the dining room table. All while having a chat to the client.

Respecting the Desire to ‘Age in Place’

Ageing in place is a concept, according to researchers at RMIT University, that involves “keeping older people connected to their neighbourhood and community as part of a broader framework of ‘active ageing’, with the aim of improving their quality of life and giving them more control over their circumstances”.

The people at BASScare understand this and embrace it. As part of the drive to respect their clients’ wishes and decisions, the Meals on Wheels program in Boroondara was born over 60 years ago.

“[Living at home] is what they want to do. That’s where they feel comfortable. And, as a community, this is a way we can enable that,” says Janet Crago, Community Engagement Manager at BASScare.

The Gift of the Gab – Social interaction is crucial to the health and happiness of older Australians

For those clients who find it difficult to get out of the house, it’s often the only social interaction they have for the day, so our volunteers can play an important role in alleviating loneliness and isolation.

A recent SANE Australia survey found that 31% of respondents are concerned about social isolation in the future. For those living in a private home, “isolation was cited as the most negative aspect of where they live, and carers identify social visits as the most effective intervention in prolonging the time a person can live independently”.

And the BASScare volunteers become those familiar faces to the clients. It’s not about ringing a doorbell, delivering a package and leaving for the next customer. It’s about conversation and connection with a friend.

“One of the clients I know is sport mad,” says Janet. “So whenever I go there, I always ask, ‘What did you think of the cricket?’ We always talk sport.”

On school holidays, some of the volunteers take their children with them on their delivery rounds, and the clients get to know the family. They’ve even been known to make up little Christmas presents for the volunteers’ kids.

A Two-Way Street – The positive impact clients have on our volunteers

The benefits of volunteering are well known – you gain experience, develop a healthier mind and body and, believe it or not, it can even make it feel like there are more hours in the day. But there’s more at play for BASScare’s volunteers; years of driving those familiar streets, knocking on familiar doors, and greeting familiar faces has laid the foundations for some special relationships that have turned volunteering into a cherished pastime.

“Meals on Wheels is about the client, of course,” says Janet. “But I have a sneaking suspicion the volunteers get just as much out of it as the person receiving the meal. The volunteers love it.”

Encouraging a Greater Connection to the Community

The volunteers delivering the meals for BASScare’s clients are a connection to the community. It’s not enough to simply remain in our own homes – isolation and loneliness can find us anywhere, after all – we all need to socialise and have conversations with familiar faces to truly be a part of our neighbourhood.

BASScare’s Meals on Wheels program is all about championing and delivering a sense of community and inclusion, and fostering lasting friendships. It’s also about continuity. A lot of the volunteers have other roles within the BASScare family, so if a client of Meals on Wheels ever pops into Canterbury Centre for a coffee, or one day moves in as a permanent resident, they’ll see those familiar faces. Perhaps continue a conversation from the day before.

It can be intimidating for anyone to take the first towards joining a community group, but it’s so much easier when you’re greeted with a friendly and familiar face.

Friendship and community. That’s the spirit behind BASScare’s Meals on Wheels.