About 10 years after WWII, a nurse in Melbourne hopped on a tricycle with a pot of soup and pedalled around to deliver it to peoples’ homes. Many no longer had family members to support them and some of the elderly had no means of getting meals. Unable to get to soup kitchens, tea and toast was a common diet and nutrition was poor. Thus began the Meals on Wheels service.

More than 60 years on, almost 15 million meals are delivered to around 53, 000 recipients by more than 78, 000 volunteers across the country each year.

By 2021, there will be nearly fifty per cent more people older than 85 in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven. The demand on services such as Meals on Wheels is likely to increase.

Northern Illawarra Meals on Wheels is all about keeping people independent and in their own homes. But accepting a meal service can be hard for those who have spent a lifetime providing meals for their families.

Alice Matthews & Dr Siobhan McHugh speak to clients and volunteers about the role Meals on Wheels plays in their lives.

Transcript & Pics

[music] Peach upside-down cake with custard…fish, baked meals…rhubarb and apple crumble and cream… pork neck with sauerkraut…bread and butter pudding, which is beautiful.

Doris: I may have the desert at lunchtime, and the hot meal I like, I prefer the hot meal at night-time. So it’s my choice and I just do whatever I like.

“I’m my own boss.”

Photo: Dr Siobhan McHugh

Photo: Dr Siobhan McHugh


Alice: That was 86-year-old Doris Stewart from Woonona. She’s been receiving Meals on Wheels for the past 10 years. Doris gets five meals a week and her daughter usually brings her something for the weekend. She started using the service after a stint in hospital with pneumonia.

Doris: It was a godsend because I wasn’t well enough to do anything and I was quite concerned what was I going to do when got home, like anyone else would be.

Alice: For the past decade she’s been happy with the meals, for the most part.

Doris: I’ve never had a, well cottage pie, they always put too much potato on it but that’s just a little complaint, that’s all and that’s not much.

Roy: We get a lot of feedback…

“…We want feedback because then we can improve the service if we need to, you know.”

Alice: Roy Mellor is president of Northern Illawarra Meals on Wheels. The best feedback he receives is about the volunteers and how friendly they are. Drivers spend around an hour or so on a delivery run.

Photo: Dr Siobhan McHugh

Photo: Dr Siobhan McHugh


Roy: Depending on how many people want to chat to you on the run and that can take a bit of time up as well…We do have a few couples that we deliver to but the majority of our clients do live on their own, so you might be the only person they see all day so obviously they don’t mind having a chat.

[music] Sunny day, we didn’t have that cold wind yesterday that they forecasted…a friend’s just come up and cut my hair – oh she is a, what do you call it? A hairdresser….There’s 340 i think in that photo, that was a few years ago…it’s a wonderful family not too many people have got a family like that.

Roy: Some of them don’t want to chat…But then you get to know the ones that do want to talk and you can’t stop ‘em talking. As soon as you walk in the door it’s chat chat chat chat chat, a lot of them you’ve got to drag yourself way otherwise you’d never get around, you know.

Doris: I love going snooping, poking my nose in everything and having a look and buying if I need be. There’s nothing like a cappuccino and something to eat with it. Can’t beat it. Shocker aren’t I!

Alice: Doris says the real value of the service is friendship. John Kearns is one of her delivery drivers.





John: She’s a wag, you know, she’s got a real sense of humour. Check the mail box and you go and take her letters in, if she’s got anything to post, she says “can you post these for me?” Which is, it’s not a problem at all you know.

John: Good morning, how you going Doris?

Doris: Yes.

John: Having a sleep in are ya?

Doris: Having a sleep in. Yes and there’s a letter for you to post on the table.

John: Okie dokie, no worries. What you been up to?

Doris: You know what, ah I gave myself a concussion the other day…

Alice: Building relationships is also what volunteers Bruce and Betty McCallister love about what they do.

Bruce: Well I’m Bruce McCallister, I’m the driver, been doing for quite a few years, we think about 13 years but you don’t remember these things. We meet a lot of nice people, and we’ll need it ourselves soon I think. OK Betty, your turn.

Betty: I’m Betty McCallister, wife to Bruce and well he’s filled you in with all we do here.

[Betty] Wait a minute. Left at Blackbutt, first right before the rail bridge… No desert, just the rissoles so that’s it…’Meals on Wheels’…I’ve usually got to go in for this one. [voice] Won’t be a minute. [Betty] Alright, don’t rush.




Alice: Bruce and Betty say the hardest part about their job is when the deliveries have to stop.

Bruce: When somebody’s passed away or gone into a nursing home and you’ve been dropping meals to them for years, you’re pretty friendly with them. But that’s life, isn’t it? It’s happening all the time and we can’t stop it. It’s happening to us, we’re changing as we get older.

Alice: And that change, is it hard to accept?

Bruce: You’ve got to accept it…

“…The common sense thing is to accept it and go with it. You can’t fight it. If you fight it you’re in all sorts of trouble. You only hurt yourself I think, if you try to fight it. And you just got to know it’s happening and try to work with it.”

Alice: Bruce says the only thing that’s constant is change. For some, that change is harder to come to terms with. Melinda Stuckey is the manager of Northern Illawarra Meals on Wheels.

Melinda: “Accepting Meals on Wheels is a big psychological step…”

…and you will have the same meal delivered to half a dozen different people and a number of those will say it’s the best thing they’ve ever had and they love it and it’s fantastic, you will have one person that says it’s dog food and then you’ll have a couple of people just shrug and say it’s necessary. That’s the same meal and…

“…To me it’s more about how you feel about having to receive Meals on Wheels about how you’re ageing and how you look at your own health…”

…I do tend to find that the very negative comments, it’ll be about the place that somebody’s in their whole life, not just the meal that they’re receiving from us.

Alice: Meals on Wheels was a practical step for Linda and William Schifferdecker.



Alice: The couple are originally from Germany. They moved to the Illawarra in 1960 where William worked for BHP for 30 years. Linda used to be a chef. She has early stages of Alzheimer’s, but still remembers a childhood surrounded by food.

William: You grown up in a delicatessen shop.

Linda: Yeah, I did.

William: During the war and after the war. And then you went to school for home economics.

Linda: Yeah, that one. School and everything.

Alice: What do you think of the Meals on Wheels food?

Linda: That is quite good.

Alice: Even after 55 years of sharing food with a chef, William agrees.

William: It is wonderfully prepared, we are quite excited sometimes.

Alice: How does it compare to Linda’s cooking?

William: Yeah, Yeah…

“…The Meals on Wheels is fantastic…”

…Here is that booklet. I personally like rissoles and shepherd pie. They are like hamburgers but in conjunction with a selection of veggies.

Alice: They both enjoy the nutritious balance and wide selection…So we’re looking at the Meals on Wheels menu and there’s pages and pages of different kinds of meals; casseroles, curries…

William: You see, that’s what I’ll order in the next week.

Alice: That was the Multicultural Meals on Wheels menu, with a selection of over 60 meals from across the globe. For around five dollars, William can order pork neck and sauerkraut – a traditional german dish – and Meals on Wheels has been flexible with his request for softer meat.

William: Because I have double dentures, to chew the meal sometimes it’s a bit hard.

Alice: William and Linda don’t know how much longer they’ll be in their home, or when they’ll have to move on.

Linda: Everything is alright. We can’t complain.

Alice: The service wrongly carries the stigma of giving up. Melinda Stuckey again.


“If people want to stay independent in their own homes good nutrition is really really important. So it’s actually about supporting their independence, it’s not about taking away and I try and get that point across.”

Alice: Some clients still cook for themselves or go out for meals.

Tony: I like socialising with people I go to clubs, a variety of different clubs, also restaurants, even cafés for morning and afternoon teas.


Alice: Tony Sarkis says a delivery of 14 meals lasts him about three weeks. When he first started receiving meals he didn’t know what he was about to eat. Tony would call them lucky dip meals, because he couldn’t read the labels.

Tony: I’ve been blind now for 50 years or more now, 60 years. It was just a little toy out of an easter show bag, it flung in my right eye, blinded that in a couple of weeks, two weeks, and then two months later the other eye went, the doctors at the time said it was in sympathy with the other eye.


Alice: Meals on Wheels started using braille labels for him.

Tony: And now I know what I’m eating each time, it is wonderful.

Alice: Tony started getting Meal on Wheels because he wanted a stable diet to improve his health following a triple bypass.

Tony: Well since I’ve been on Meals on Wheels the past three years or so, might be a little longer…

“…My health has stabilised, my weight has stabilised, the doctors are pleased with my health. And I vouch for anyone if they’re, sort of, want a stable diet, to try Meals on Wheels, ’cause they’ll find it’ll be what they’re maybe looking for to regard to their health.”


Alice: Dr Karen Walton is a dietician and lecturer at the University of Wollongong.


[Karen] I think you’ll be quite excited to be here. Today’s taste testing. I hope you noticed the chocolate over there. Tempt you all. See if we can get dieticians to have some chocolate. In moderation of course. It’s usually pretty popular I have to say. I was thinking of doing my teacher evaluation, but I thought maybe that might be seen as bribery and corruption…We’ll hold off ’til next week.

Alice: She’s examined the connection between malnutrition and dependence. After working as a dietician in hospitals, she realised how closely connected the two really are. Alongside fellow researchers, Dr Walton is working to increase the nutritional value of smaller meals offered by Meals on Wheels. These mini-meals are designed for those with a smaller appetite and have been trialled for one month.

Karen: It certainly looks encouraging what we have seen from that and…

“…We’d like to continue that work to further enrich other meal items, potentially. We’re sort of weighing up what at the most popular items that are ordered and what are the items that we can fortify well…”

…I guess to prioritise the next lot of items that will be fortified…and continuing the work looking at other strategies like snacks and other strategies with home-delivered meal services.

Alice: Norther Illawarra Meals on Wheels has implemented their own support program, addressing the rising dementia figures in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven.

Melinda: We’ve actually had a program in place for the last probably two years, it’s called a Meal Support Program because…

“…I did realise that there were people out there, that even if we did delivered a hot meal it wasn’t enough.”

Alice: Based on an assessment, the support ranges from helping people eat, to making a cup of tea.

Melinda: And I’ve just got some new funding for a dementia service so we can expand that service. It’s going to address stages of dementia, so not just end-stage dementia that you need, you know, all the support to actually eat, but in the beginning, when you may just have a few cognitive issues. We’re going to have people come in, either take the person shopping, do a shopping list, take them out to lunch, bring them home. And as they progress, we will just up the level of service delivery to them. So…

“…Through the stages of dementia, we can keep supporting them.”

Alice: But it’s both the clients and the volunteers that draw support from the service. Volunteer Dawn Delany feels appreciated and valued by Meals on Wheels. She’s worked in the Bulli kitchen for the past three years.




Dawn] So what I’m going now is I’m tallying up the meals that have been ordered for tomorrow, these are the fresh meals, not frozen meals, and once I tally all these up then I’ll take the fresh meals that we did this morning and I’ll label them all, put them in the freezer….

“…Stops isolation for a start, you’re committed – when you volunteer – to get up in the morning…”

…And they’re very good at interacting with the elderly in the community. Like tomorrow we’re having a morning tea.

Alice: And so what would life be like without volunteering?

Dawn: Oh very lonely I think. I’ve only got a little one bedroom place. I mean you get up every day, what do you do? Wash and wipe up, have a shower, make your bed. Not much to do. So, you know, apart from you know, you do a couple of loads of washing a week, and your ironing once a week, and you clean your bathroom once a week. You know, there’s not a lot you can do. And I’m the sort of person, I always do better when I’m doing for others…

“…If I’m doing for others, I don’t worry about myself too much.”

Alice: Melinda Stuckey once told her that she would never have to stay home, and that they could always use her helping hand.

[Dawn] We’ve packed meals that are going out today and they’re out there waiting for volunteer drivers to come.

Alice: For both the clients and the volunteers, Meals on Wheels has built a community based on dignity, companionship and being in control of your choices.

Doris: I don’t like the fish because it seems to be dry when you reheat it. And I always put an arrow, here, for Friday. And that there is roast pork, then I’ve got here, and that’s a ‘no’, which I’ll put here afterwards.

Alice: Doris asks for roast pork on a Friday instead of fish.

Doris: Yes… And I always get it.



Interviews with Doris Stewart, Roy Mellor, Tony Sarkis and Melinda Stuckey by Dr Siobhan McHugh.

Interviews with John Kearns & Doris Stewart, Bruce & Betty McCallister, William & Linda Shifferdecker, Dr Karen Walton, Melinda Stuckey and Dawn Delany by Alice Matthews.

Produced by Alice Matthews

Music via Jamendo:

Alexander Franke – Little Waltz

Conway Hambone – Flog it


Article orignally posted on https://mowuow.wordpress.com/