PROVIDING SUPPORT Castlebar Social Services volunteer Joe Fenton delivering the Meals on Wheels service to Billy Duffy during the spring lockdown. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
You’d imagine with the year that has been that there would be a substantial demand for the Christmas dinner offered by Castlebar Social Services Meals on Wheels service.
However, this year demand is expected to be a quarter of what it was at the height of the Celtic Tiger.
Where once the Meals on Wheels service were delivering between 20 and 30 meals on Christmas Day, that figure actually fell substantially during the recession and is expected to be just as low this year.
Castlebar Social Services manager Deirdre Waldron says that the hardship brought by the pandemic has made people more aware of the importance of looking after those living in isolation.
“I remember during the Celtic Tiger years we’d have quadruple the amount of people needing meals on Christmas Day as we do now. I do think people have gone back to looking after each other,” she told The Mayo News.
“When people had everything, they thought everybody else did. The first year of the recession it was amazing to see the drop [in demand for Christmas Day meals].
“I do think that it has made people realise that they do have to check-in on their older neighbours. If I have five people this year, that’s all I’ll have. Families are tending to look after each other and their neighbours.”
Operating from their newly refurbished facility in the Castle Street car park, the Social Services found themselves at the frontline in assisting vulnerable and isolated people during the pandemic.
Demand for the Meals on Wheels service more than tripled during the spring epidemic and has remained higher than where it was since March.
“Pre-Covid we would’ve been sending out 80 meals a day, then it went up to 300 in March, April and May,” says Deirdre.
“We’ve a full-time driver who does all of our runs out the country, he does 60 or 70, sometimes 80 runs some mornings. Between 11 and 12am we have volunteers who deliver meals in the town. We are sending out 130 meals daily now.
“We have four or five people that I know are going to be here on a certain day. The volunteers are so important, I know we couldn’t run the place without them.”
For many who use the Meals on Wheels service, it is far more than a simple meal delivery service like Deliveroo or JustEat.
As Deirdre explains, checking in and making contact with clients is at the heart of the service. She recalls one incident where an elderly lady who had a fall was found lying cold on the ground after a delivery driver got no reply after calling to the door. The Gardaí were called to force the door open, after which the lady was brought to hospital and thankfully recovered.
Such anecdotes underscore the importance of the link between community groups and their more vulnerable and isolated clients.
Nine months into Covid-19, Deirdre says that some of their clients still haven’t left their homes, making the Meals on Wheels one of their only points of contact with the outside world.
“It’s not just a meal, it’s a check-in service,” says Deirdre.
“The family knows that somebody’s going to be calling for that person. You’d hear stories about somebody being found dead in a house and they’d be there for weeks.”
Due to the constrains of the pandemic, the Social Services’ annual Christmas lunch for their clients will not take place. Bus trips to places like Westport and Turlough House have also temporarily fallen by the wayside.
However, Deirdre insists that the links formed between community groups like the Social Services and medically vulnerable people has been fortified by the pandemic.
One of the central tenets of the Sláintecare plan to reform the Irish health service is to put supports in place to allow people to remain in their homes for as long as possible.
Deirdre says that strengthening links between the health service and voluntary sector will move this objective of Sláintecare much closer to full implementation.
“I do think some good has come out of Covid, it has made people think about who is living around them and to look after them. Everyone pulled together and it really worked well.
“Hopefully it doesn’t go because [Covid-19] is not going away. I do think community groups and all the statutory bodies need to be working together rather than working independently… if we’re all working together it’d make it so much easier for everybody.”