Moving into lockdown didn’t come at the best time for 89-year-old Vera Farrant, a Meals on Wheels recipient who lives in Hamilton. Her mobility was recently reduced due to a change in her health condition, and Vera had just put everything in place to move into a unit within a retirement village when the whole country went in total lockdown.

While patiently waiting for the end of the lockdown to move to her new home, Vera was delighted to hear that Red Cross’ Meals on Wheels service had been identified as essential and would continue to run through the period of temporary restrictions.

“I did wonder what would happen to Meals on Wheels [when the New Zealand Government announced the lockdown], but then I very quickly found out it was being re-staffed with younger people,” says Vera.

“There were so many dear sweet volunteers in the older brackets, who are always so kind and loving and who want to bring the meals, put them on the bench, and have a little chat on their way.”

Meals on Wheels is New Zealand Red Cross’ longest running service. Our volunteers deliver a hot meal to people who are unable to cook, some who are elderly, less able, or recovering from illness.

“It was wonderful news to find that the meals were continuing. I felt very relieved, and for the community as well, because they play such an important role. We always know Red Cross will do what they say they would do, and so bring the meals.”

Vera has been receiving Meals on Wheels on and off for many years, accessing the service when she has needed support following an accident or a health issue. She says she tries, wherever possible, to cook for herself.

“I would normally act as if I didn’t have mobility issues and try to cook, but when my situation really changed, I knew where to get my meals,” explains Vera.

Vera Farrant with her hot meal delivered by a Red Cross Meals on Wheels volunteer.

Many Red Cross volunteers have come through Vera’s door over the years, dropping off meals and often stopping to chat about her vegetable garden, the weather, or whatever is happening that day. Vera lost her husband 17 years ago and has lived on her own ever since, so the interactions she has with the volunteers are one of the little things which brighten her days.

Since the lockdown many of our volunteers, a number who are over the age of 70, have temporarily stepped down from their duty. Our disaster response volunteers, as well as new volunteers from throughout the community, have stepped in to support this service.

Brooklyn, a Disaster Welfare and Support Team member in Hamilton, is one of the people who have stepped up to help out.

“We’re noticing that a lot of recipients are quite scared, or they're just unsure about the current climate with COVID-19," says Brooklyn.

“So while we're out giving these meals to people in our community, we're also providing psychological first aid. That means just making sure everything is going okay, and that they are feeling calm and collected.”

Vera says she is doing well, but that she’s looking forward to when she can have longer chats with the volunteers, something that’s been less possible during the Alert Level 4 restrictions.

“I miss interacting with the volunteers. When you’re on your own, you really appreciate their visits. When it’s the only person I can practice the art of conversation to that day, I probably talk too much!”

Our volunteers are essential

The Alert Level 4 lockdown in place due to COVID-19, and the additional restrictions on people over 70, have impacted the way we deliver meals. However, our commitment to supporting vulnerable Kiwis like Vera remains, now more than ever. Red Cross volunteers are still delivering around 11,500 meals a week to people across Aotearoa, while also checking in on their wellbeing.