Meals on Wheels are programmes throughout the United Kingdom that deliver meals to the homes of people who either are unable to purchase food or prepare meals for themselves. Although not all programmes carry the name “Meals on Wheels”, it generally refers to meals that are delivered at home. The recipients of these meals tend to be elderly as it is this age group that is more likely to be homebound. The people whom deliver the meals are volunteers and they may also be elderly but are more able-bodied, as they can drive wheeled vehicles. They usually deliver the meals in a van as they can deliver meals to several elderly households during the day.
Meals on Wheels began in the United Kingdom during the Blitz, when the United Kingdom was under sustained bombing by Nazi Germany. It was at this time that many people became homeless and so were unable to prepare their own meals, regardless of age. Food was provided for these people by the Women’s Volunteer Service for Civil Defence. This group also delivered meals to servicemen and so the name “Meals on Wheels” came into being.
The delivery of meals to homes began in 1943 in the United Kingdom by the Women’s Volunteer Service for Civil Defence, later known as the Royal Voluntary Services. The first deliveries were made in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, using old prams for transportation and straw bales and sometimes old hats made of felt to keep the meals warm as they went from one place to another.
The volunteers at the time required those who knew how to cook basic meals and get them ready by a specific time every day. Those local authorities that now deliver meals have moved towards frozen pre-cooked meals that can be reheated or delivered frozen for later reheating so as to be able to more meals to a greater number of people, and of course faster. Meals are either free or require a nominal donation and meet daily standards of nutrition that are set in the UK.
Local councils that now provide Meals on Wheels also offer additional services. They typically ensure that the person to whom they are delivering a meal is safe, well and secure. If a volunteer delivering a meal sees that the person is having a problem or requires some care, they will contact the next of kin. The volunteer can also cut up the meal, get a drink and encourage the elderly person to eat if that is required.
Meals on Wheels can also be a source of social contact as those who require these meals may be isolated due to their inability to get out and about. Special volunteers can spend time chatting about topics that interest the customer and let them know about activities that are happening in their community.
A new Meals on Wheels concept is providing Afternoon Tea. An Afternoon Tea can consist of such items as a sandwich, cake or other pastry and a fruit drink and a portion of fruit. This would be delivered at the same time as lunch and as it requires no preparation can be taken by the customer whenever it is desired. It is a fantastic service for the elderly, and those that have a disability. If you would like to sign up for the service or find out more you will be able to do so by getting in touch with your local council.