2020 was always going to be special for Kiama Meals on Wheels, as members of the community-run organisation were looking forward to celebrating its 50th year.
Circumstances have overtaken those plans for the time being, with the Management Committee acting swiftly to ensure the continuation of the service at time of great need.
“We’ll get around to celebrating some time, and it will be bigger and better – we just don’t know when,” says Kiama Meals on Wheels’ Manager, Joanne North.
The service introduced strict COVID procedures back in late February, well ahead of other organisations.
In late March, they made the decision to let their 310 volunteers take a break so that new systems could be brought into play.
“Some people might not have understood the urgency at the time, but the Management Committee realised that we needed to stop and reassess the way we were doing things.
“The concern was that quite a lot of our clients have compromised immunity and were extremely vulnerable, so the less people going into their homes the better.
“The only way to do it was minimise the amount of people doing the work, and to introduce a contactless delivery system.”
At the same time, they were determined not to lose the social interaction and welfare checks that are an integral part of their service.
Apart from working closely with family members, carers and other in-home service providers, Kiama Meals on Wheels has been keeping in touch with its clients by phone to make sure they are alright.
“It has been a coordinated approach to make sure no one falls through the safety net,” says Ms North.
As part of the streamlining of the service, clients are now receiving frozen meals rather than hot ones.
Emergency relief funding from the Federal Department of Health has financed new freezers and paid for drivers.
The extra resources were needed with Kiama Meals on Wheels now providing twice as many meals as it did earlier in the year.
“Not only have our existing clients increased the number of meals they need so they don’t have to go out, but our client numbers have gone up by 20 per cent,” says Ms North.
She is well aware that many of their volunteers are ready and able to come back to work, but she wants to take things slowly to protect both the clients and the volunteers.
“The hardest decision is how do we transition our volunteers back into the workplace and keep everybody safe at the same time?
“Some of our volunteers have been with our service for the whole 50 years, and are still going strong.
“I am really looking forward to getting the volunteers back on deck, but we need to be cautious.”
The service is gradually taking some people back on the roster to make sure the systems are robust.
“This place used to be a hive of activity, with so many coming and going, but that can’t happen now.”