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Monday, 21 November 2011
Page: 13147

Mr BALDWIN (Paterson) (20:34): I would like to start by saying that I am very grateful to have the chance to speak about Meals on Wheels here tonight. For decades I have heard about the wonderful service provided by Meals on Wheels and, since being elected as an MP, I have had the pleasure of meeting the hundreds of local volunteers and seeing firsthand the difference that they make in people's lives. Meals on Wheels is a familiar name to Australians all over and it is at the heart of many communities. It represents helping hands, teamwork, and looking out for each other. It is all about people in the community joining forces to help others.

In New South Wales, Meals on Wheels was started in March 1957 by Sydney City Council. In the first week, 150 meals were served for inner-city dwellers. These were cooked in the Town Hall kitchen and the cost of the meal then was two shillings, which is about 20c in today's coinage. The service quickly spread to other areas and today there are approximately 315 groups which are known as Meals on Wheels or Food Services in New South Wales. From its inception over 50 years ago, Meals on Wheels has grown to become a driving force in the care of the community. In the course of a year, over 14.8 million meals are delivered by more than 78,700 volunteers to about 53,000 recipients Australia-wide in cities, regional and rural areas. Of these about 4.5 million meals are delivered by 35,000 volunteers in New South Wales each year by 190 Meals on Wheels services servicing the needs of over 15,000 clients per day. The client base is broken down to 32 per cent metropolitan and 68 per cent regional clients. It is important to regional and rural communities. Meal prices range from $4.50 to $9. Importantly, meals are provided to clients at production cost.

While the tradition and values of Meals on Wheels remain true to their origin, a focus on engaging people of all ages from all walks of life is unfolding and bringing renewed energy, ideas and visions to help the organisation continue to provide vital services that meet the needs of the community. For decades, I have heard about the wonderful service provided by Meals on Wheels, and since being elected as an MP I have had the pleasure of meeting these volunteers and working with them in the delivery of meals and to see the difference they make in people's lives.

In my electorate of Paterson alone we have almost one dozen Meals on Wheels branches, including East Maitland, Dungog, Stroud, Nabiac, Forster-Tuncurry, Raymond Terrace, Nelson Bay and Tea Gardens Hawks Nest. When you consider that each and every one of those must run on a team of volunteers, it is truly amazing. Consider, for example, that East Maitland Meals on Wheels delivered 34,401 meals in the 2010 financial year. That is equivalent to 94 meals every day. There is just no way it could have been done without the volunteers who donate their time so freely. It goes without saying that each and every team member is worthy of recognition, and on behalf of the Paterson electorate I would like to thank our local Meals on Wheels volunteers. That includes 140 volunteers at East Maitland, 20 at Dungog, 250 in the Great Lakes region, and 100 at Tea Gardens Hawks Nest. In fact, when you add up all the Meals on Wheels volunteers in Paterson, nearly one in every hundred electors who live in my electorate are volunteers for the service.

Of course, there are some very special names that should be mentioned tonight. Just this morning East Maitland held a ceremony for the long-service awards. Moya Kennedy and Edith Lawrence were recognised for 30 years service. Robyn Searle, Rhonda Taylor and Margaret King were awarded for 25 years, while Glen Rose and Shirley Elliot have contributed 20 years of work. The chair of fundraising, Barbara Heckman, was also honoured for her role in securing the vital service, and also awarded Maitland's Citizen of the Year in 2011. At Dungog, Julie Duncan has been volunteering for Meals on Wheels for 40 years. That is half the average person's lifetime. Barbara Fraser has notched up 30 years, Lyn Witt 25 years, Pat Simmons 20 years, and there are another 15 members with more than 20 years service as well, working to deliver fresh, hot meals to the needy every day.

Also a special mention at Dungog is the adopt-a-chef program, which won this year's food service innovation award. The program took students from the Dungog High School and allowed them to work with the elderly people to cook simple nutritious two-course meals. It is fantastic to see partnerships such as these, which are servicing so many areas of the community which would otherwise go without. It is also teaching our kids how to look after themselves and to follow a balanced diet. Students are also working with Meals on Wheels up at the Great Lakes, and organisers are confident that a student volunteer program will continue to grow. In the Forster-Tuncurry area, Lillian Parsons has been volunteering since the local Meals on Wheels service began 37 years ago. George Mazaraki has just completed 25 years. In the small community of Tea Gardens Hawks Nest there are 100 volunteers. Shirley Tearson and Jean Ryan have been drivers for two decades while Sylvia Rapley has been a cook for the same period. Together they delivered meals to the doors of more than 60 people in need. I wish I had the time to go on to the hundreds of other dedicated volunteers. However, I know from my own personal experience working with them that every volunteer would know just how important they are and the difference they make to people's lives. Instead, I would like to spend a few moments talking about the service that Meals on Wheels delivers. From the occasional day of working with and listening to those who give so much of their time, and witnessing the real impact of their efforts on the community, let me say clearly and unequivocally that the real impact is much more than just food in the belly. For many it is a nutritious meal, perhaps the only one they might manage in a day. Often Meals on Wheels is the highest source of nutritional content for a client who would otherwise survive on tea and toast.

Meals on Wheels seeks to actively educate clients and reduce the risk of malnutrition in older people. Improving nutrition reduces falls and other associated health risks in older people. Branches like Dungog will deliver hot, fresh food, whilst frozen meals are also available for the convenience of people and their carers. For some people it is a friendly chat with a volunteer who has come to deliver their food, and that can make a real difference. Sadly, for some it is the only personal contact they may encounter because they live alone or are not able to travel.

Many of my Meals on Wheels branches have also started to offer luncheon days for their customers so that they can get together for a meal and, more importantly, for social interaction. For others who are elderly or disabled, Meals on Wheels is a way to gain support so that they can stay in their own homes longer. Not only does that take the pressure off the aged care system; it provides immense relief for thousands of local residents and their families. There is nothing like being in your own home, with your independence and your familiarity.

When you mention Meals on Wheels, I believe it is most telling that you are hard-pressed to find someone who does not know about the service and the work it does and, in particular, the people who make it happen. The service has adapted and taken on many new partnerships over the years, which have secured its success. The management must be commended on that. Fifty years in the community is a phenomenal achievement and I can only hope that there are at least 50 more years to come.