More than just a dinner service

PUBLISHED: 12:15 16 February 2006 | UPDATED: 09:40 06 May 2010

Tina Welch

Tina Welch

FORGET the pearls and twin set idea – the volunteers who deliver meals on wheels nowadays come in all shapes and sizes, from workers going out in their lunch hour to newly-retired men and one 90-year-old woman. They do share one very strong characteristic

FORGET the pearls and twin set idea - the volunteers who deliver meals on wheels nowadays come in all shapes and sizes, from workers going out in their lunch hour to newly-retired men and one 90-year-old woman.

They do share one very strong characteristic though - they are totally committed to the people who depend on them.

Often they are the only person the senior citizen sees all day and the food they deliver will be their only hot meal.

Volunteers also provide a safety check for the elderly, making sure they are all right.

"We have a strict 'no reply' policy," said Tina Welch, meals service manager for North Hertfordshire District Council.

"If we don't see someone when we knock on the door we will find out where they are.

"There have been occasions when we have had to call out emergency services."

They found one very ill man sitting with his fire full on in a heat wave and were told there was no hope by paramedics. But he made a full recovery thanks to being found in time.

The volunteers are often asked to do small jobs while they are there.

"One of the cleverest things the volunteers do is manage their time," said Tina, who is based in Hitchin but organises a service across North Herts.

"People want you to do something - post letters, undo a lid, lots of small things. If you don't see anyone at all it's quite important and the volunteers are quite happy to do it. One lovely volunteer bakes them cakes and goes back.

"They are the nicest people. In the fuel shortage a couple of years ago we didn't have one volunteer who failed to deliver even though we didn't know when we would be able to get petrol. Their commitment is really quite amazing."

NHDC has 248 volunteers delivering to 430 customers, usually five days a week. The meals are bought in and heated up in kitchens at Beechridge in Baldock, then collected there or from Peter Sell House in Hitchin, Royston Town Hall or Poynders Meadow in Codicote. In all about 50,000 meals go out a year, mostly to over 85-year-olds, and are often crucial to keeping people in their own homes.

The service is thoroughly appreciated - a recent survey showed a 99.2 per cent satisfaction rate and the meals are generally well received.

"I always have a taste and they are very nice," said Tina.

Generally they are traditional meat and two veg with a pudding, costing the customer £2.60 a day and providing a third of their nutritional requirements.

"Unfortunately, sometimes they are the only meal they have," added Tina.

The volunteers encourage the elderly to eat them, sometimes serving the food and cutting up the meat.

Tina has been the manager for almost six years after working as a care assistant in a sheltered housing scheme.

"I wanted something more but still on the caring side. It is very rewarding, it's a lovely job," she said.

"It is a really great team. We have gatherings a couple of times a year, a big Christmas party and a strawberry tea in the summer.

"We listen to the volunteers. If they are concerned about someone they let my team know.

"They have a great sense of community and giving something back. They really do give something to our customers, they lift their spirits. They just don't leave - our volunteers often become our customers."

If you would like to become a volunteer, call Tina on 01462 422592. It takes up to two hours to do a round, from 11.30am, and you can do it as often as you like or just once a month. You can also be on call to cover sickness and holidays rather than commit yourself to a regular slot.

Cllr Allison Ashley, NHDC portfolio holder for housing and environment, said: "We are justly proud of our meals on wheels service and it is very rewarding to see it is so valued by our customers.

"The volunteers are a truly amazing set of people and I take my hat off to them all.

"Without their commitment we would not be able to continue this very valuable service which offers not just a hot meal but a helping hand and a friendly face.

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