“I was really close to my grandparents, particularly to my grandma whom I’ve lived with ever since I was a child. Before they passed on years ago, I spent most of my time taking care of them, accompanying them to the hospital for their routine check-ups, taking notes of the doctor’s advice,” Donna shares about the time she spent with her grandparents back in the Philippines. 

Remembering all those times they spent together, Donna understands that some older people are susceptible to feeling isolated and lonely. 

She says: “I guess it has something to do with the idea of being more dependent on others. My grandma, for example, always wanted to have someone with her, someone she could talk to. And whenever I was too busy to sit down and chat, I could easily sense the change in her mood. She would suddenly be sad and upset.” 

Aware that most of the older people here in New Zealand are often living on their own, Donna felt the urge to offer help as she believes they would need all the support they can get in an unsettling situation like COVID-19

“If my grandparents were still alive today, I’m sure that they would be safe and well with family members inside their bubble to support them not only physically, but also emotionally. I reckon not all old people here are as lucky as they would have been,” she explains 

“By volunteering to help Meals on Wheels, I hope to contribute one way or another in lessening that feeling of isolation among vulnerable people in our community who rely on this service,” she adds.

Aside from bringing them their meals, Donna gladly offers appropriate social interaction with some of these vulnerable people who are keen to see a friendly face. 

She says: “I hope that the simple smile, friendly greeting and brief small-talk I offer while standing at least two metres away from them [might] somehow help brighten up their day in a time like this.” 

“I noticed how the recipients were actually looking forward to receive the meals. Most of them were eagerly waiting by their windows, and you could see their faces light up as we make our way to their doors,” she adds.

Donna originally signed up as a Red Cross Disaster Welfare and Support Team (DWST) volunteer in Masterton. Part of her DWST training, she took a Psychological First Aid course late last year, which she found handy while doing the Meals on Wheels run. 

“I tried to observe the ‘look, listen and link’ approach I learned during the course while I was engaging with the meal recipients. In the short conversation I had with each of them, I tried to carefully look and listen for potential signs of distress that may need attention. I also made it a point to ask them if there’s anything else they need, like doing their groceries or getting supplies for their pets, so I could refer them to relevant service providers,” she says.

On top of her current volunteer role with Red Cross, as well as her other professional and personal engagements, Donna has committed to continue doing a Meals on Wheels run every week to help provide healthy meals to vulnerable people in Masterton. 

“It’s not really a big ask from me. It only takes a few hours a week, so I can’t think of any reason why I should not continue volunteering for Meals on Wheels. Besides, other than being able to help others, it also gives me an opportunity to personally connect with people in the community, especially in this time of isolation.” 

About Red Cross’ Meals on Wheels programme

The New Zealand Government has deemed Meals on Wheels an ‘essential service’. This means that New Zealand Red Cross continues to carry out this service in 33 locations, delivering approximately 11,300 meals a week, while Aotearoa is in Alert Level 4. The service is a way of ensuring that the people who we support continue receive meals and have the opportunity to connect with one of our friendly volunteers during this period of national isolation.