Food for thought: Calls to keep wheels of service turning
A LOCAL not-for-profit organisation known for assisting vulnerable Australians, is highlighting discrepancies in the distribution of government funding, with fears of not being able to stay afloat.
National food delivery service Meals On Wheels has been running for more than 65 years, playing a significant role in supporting the health and wellbeing of more than 200,000 seniors across almost 600 locations.
When COVID-19 hit, it became apparent just how essential the organisation's volunteers and their contribution is for providing food security to vulnerable Australians.
But Bundaberg service manager Brendon Searle said without sufficient funding, the local Meals on Wheels will struggle to remain financially sustainable and fatigue among volunteers had increased.
"Volunteers are feeling punished and exploited, and viability of services is at risk," Mr Searle said.
"Everyday, we help prevent food insecurity by delivering a nutritious meal, with a friendly smile to those who are unable to cook or shop for themselves.
"But without fair and adequate funding that doorbell will not ring and older Australians will go hungry."
National Meals On Wheels Day is on August 26 and as part of this year's event, the Australian-wide service is asking government funding contributions to match the national average and raise to $12 per meal under the Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP).
The CHSP program was designed to assist older Australians to live independently in their own homes and while Meals On Wheels currently delivers more than two thirds of the meal services provided as part of the program, they still remain well below the average.
Before COVID-19, the average amount for CHSP funding was $12 per meal, but Meals On Wheels services across the country have been receiving the minimum of $4.85 per meal.
During the pandemic, the average increased from $18 to $24 per meal, with Meals On Wheels funding rising to $9.70, a figure that still remains below the average amount before COVID-19.
Mr Searle said increased funding through the CHSP program would ensure customers would only be required to pay for the cost of ingredients.
"At present, consumers face a 'postcode lottery' with no clear reason why identical services cost them more in some areas than others," he said.
Meals on Wheels Australia President Sharyn Broer said the organisation is asking for fair grant funding to ensure it can continue delivering affordable nutritious meals, social connection and wellbeing checks to those who need it most.
"The current arrangements openly foster significant funding inequity … something is very wrong," Ms Broer said.
"During the COVID-19 pandemic emergency, the Government recognised and reinforced the essential role our services play in ensuring food security for older Australians."
"When the chips were down, the Government and the Australian people relied on our network to be the community safety net and we delivered, (but) we won't be there in the next emergency if we aren't funded adequately."
Show your support on National Meals On Wheels Day by purchasing barbecue lamb chops for lunch, followed by Black Forest cake for dessert, from the service.
You can also join in on the virtual event via Zoom, on August 26, between midday and 2pm. To access the live stream, the meeting ID is 868 2424 88996.
The NewsMail requested comment from Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians Richard Colbeck but no response was received.