FOOD FOR THOUGHT Manager of Westport Social Services Meals on Wheels, Claire Purton, and Josephine Walsh package the prepared meals for collection by volunteers, who will deliver the meals to the service users. Pic: Michael McLaughlin
Westport service sees demand soar due to fear and restrictions
WESTPORT Meals on Wheels has seen a two-fold increase in demand for its dinner service since the start of the coronavirus crisis, which left older people afraid to leave their homes.
The situation has now become even more critical with the latest Government restrictions, as people over 70 and those who are extremely vulnerable due to underlying health conditions have now been ordered to ‘cocoon’, meaning they must not leave their homes at all.
The service normally provides daily freshly prepared three-course meals to 30 people in the Westport hinterland, but since the outbreak of the coronavirus in Ireland at the end of February, they are now supplying meals to close to 60 people – with the demand rising by the day.
“We didn’t expect such an increase in demand in meals. We normally do 30 meals a day but now it is up to 55 and we are inundated with calls everyday asking us to deliver. The numbers are growing day on day,” Joan Jennings of Westport Meals on Wheels told The Mayo News last week.
Go Fund Me page
The social-distancing guidelines meant that Westport Meals on Wheels’ main source of funding dried up, as they were forced to close their charity shop located at the Westport Social Services Centre on Mill Road. Added to that, their annual church-gate collection, which normally takes in close to €9,000 and was due to take place last weekend, was also called off.
With the increase demand in services and funding issue growing ever-more critical, Joan set up a Go Fund Me page on Monday, March 23, to try to get the finances back in shape. To her astonishment, they managed to raise €2,500 in just the first two days.
“The community has been brilliant,” she said. “It has come in in small bits, €5 and €10, and we have even got donations in dollars from Canada and the US, where people must have shared to people overseas. It is brilliant. It is fabulous really, but these are changing times and we just have to keep up with it. Hopefully people will continue to donate and help us get through these challenging times.”
Joan praised all the service’s staff and volunteers, who are working in challenging circumstances to prepare the freshly made meals every day in the centre.
The dishes are all heat sealed and delivered by volunteers to people living both inside the town and the surrounding hinterland. The meals consist of soup, and a main course of meat, two veg and potatoes and a desert.
Joan explained that many elderly people who would normally get a meal in town cannot now do so, as they cannot leave their home. Before the crisis began, she explained, the majority of people used their service to meet other people, but that has now all changed.
“Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday we would bring 15 people into the centre for a three-course meal and while the food was important, what they wanted was the social contact and for someone to talk to them. On Wednesday and Friday, we had music and singing and on Monday we showed them films. They wanted to meet people no matter what you were doing, whether it was playing cards or just talking to them.
“That has been put on the back-burner again because the most important thing now is to feed them in this crisis. For the next few months they want to be cocooned, and we have to make sure they are fed … we have a wonderful manager at the centre, Claire Purton, who rings them all every day to make sure they are okay. The social contact with the delivery of the food is vital for the next 12 to 16 weeks, and we have to make sure we have the funds to do that.”
With many people living away from their parents and unable to visit them, it is often thanks to Westport Meals on Wheels that they know their parents are being looked after. Joan said they have received many cards and calls of thanks from people grateful for the assistance they are providing at this time. She added that anyone concerned for an elderly parent or relative should contact Westport Garda Station, who will ensure they are safe and looked after.
If there is a good to come out of the crisis, it is the number of people who have put their hands up to give their time to help others in need. Westport Meals on Wheels is one of the organisations to avail of new volunteers, and they are grateful for their help.
“With the help of the community, a lot of young volunteers have come on board, and it is amazing the good spirit which is out there. People are very good at reaching out and helping others.
“I would hope that people continue, because up until now it was very hard to get volunteers especially the younger volunteers. Hopefully it will bring something new, that young people will volunteer more, and maybe it will be a good thing in the long term. People may realise that life is not all about work and we should spend more time with our family and give more to the community.”