“The roads around here have improved a lot over the past six years,” comments New Zealand Red Cross volunteer Murray Gardiner as we duck in and out of side-streets in Christchurch’s eastern suburbs. “After the February 2011 earthquakes we had to undertake all sorts of measures to ensure the Meals on Wheels got to the homes.”

Murray, now 69, has delivered Meals on Wheels in the city’s east since 2009 and has witnessed the suburbs transform from peaceful, tree-lined streets to near-impassable goat-tracks and back again.

Often he was forced to park his RAV4 at the road cordons and walk through “water, liquefaction and goodness-knows what else” to deliver the meals.

Murray shares a laugh with one of his regular meals recipients.

Delivering meals no matter what

“Once, straight after the earthquakes, I was doing Round 25 in Shirley and a senior sergeant stopped me at a roundabout,” Murray recalls with a smile. “He said ‘you can’t go through here’. I replied ‘I’m not Wells Fargo and I don’t have the mail, but I’ve got meals and they’ve got to be delivered’. The cop then told me to stick the meals in the back of the police car and we delivered them together. He was OK, that bloke.”

It didn’t take long for the cordon guards around the city to know who Murray was and permit him to access where few people were allowed.

“Having the Red Cross logo on my dash opened up a lot of barriers,” he describes. “The army guarded the city after the earthquake but I built a good rapport with them. Whenever they saw the Red Cross logo they’d wave me through so I could deliver the meals to the people who needed them.”

Still going strong

Until recently, Murray was undertaking five Meals on Wheels rounds a week. However, during the height of the chaos following 22 February 2011, he ran five rounds through the eastern and coastal suburbs in one day. Today he still drives four days a week (with the fifth day on standby), as well as volunteering for community watch in the east.

“Having things like Meals on Wheels gives you an incentive to get out of bed every morning,” the former Canterbury U15 cricket coach and team selector states. “I enjoy engaging with people every day and having a laugh with them. A lot of them are pleased to have a visitor; they can be lonely and I’m probably the only person they’ll see, maybe for a few days.”

“At the end of day the meals have to be delivered and if you make yourself available I think you should make a commitment to see they’re handed out, regardless of the circumstances.”

More than 400 Christchurch Meals on Wheels volunteers deliver an average 12,000 hot meals to elderly, vulnerable and disabled residents every month.