30th Jun '21

Meals on Wheels and Café Connect three-year partnership a recipe for deliciousness

Meals on Wheels in Orange, funded under the Commonwealth Home Support Programme, has had a ‘social enterprise’ edge to its service for three years running. That’s thanks to Orange City Council partnering with local aged and disability services organisation, LiveBetter.

Council wanted to expand the menu offered to include fresh, as well as frozen, meals. To achieve this, they contracted LiveBetter’s Café Connect to take up the challenge three years ago. Café Connect is a social enterprise LiveBetter runs as a professional eat-in or takeaway eatery and catering business to help people with disabilities gain valuable hospitality skills through work placements.

The partnership came about after Café Connect’s Chef, Jamie Stewart, started running ‘cooking for one’ classes through council’s social support program, through Commonwealth Home Support.

Kim McLean, Team Leader, Ageing & Sector Support Central West, at Orange City Council, said: “Under Jamie’s guidance, individuals learnt how to cook a meal with smaller portions, and they took the meal plus the recipe card to try it at home.”

That prompted council to think how it could offer more menu choices for its Meals on Wheels program.

Kim said: “Our meals come frozen from a production kitchen in Bathurst, and they’re in line with the healthy food standards for vulnerable people, but we wanted to offer our clients additional choices such as fresh salads and hot meals.

“Café Connect started with three different salads, beautifully packaged up, that our clients could order online or by phone through us. We still offer the frozen meals, too.”

Café Connect’s Jamie offered meals delivered twice a week.

“But, when COVID-19 came, and we were all in lockdown, there was an opportunity to provide an extension of the current Meals on Wheels service. Through the partnership we started providing the Café Connect selections two days per week which included fresh salads, home-made braised beef or pumpkin, fennel, and leek pies and yummy chicken mushroom pasta dishes plus there’s always a vegetarian option.”

Jamie said his café has made about 400 meals for the Meals on Wheels service.

One of the recipients of Café Connect’s meals through the service is Mary Winter of Orange. She’s been tucking into the meals every Tuesday and Thursday for the past year.

“They’re excellent. They come hot and flavoursome. I enjoy them and the fact that I don’t have to prepare them myself,” she said.

“My favourite meal is the pasta dishes because I have a sore mouth, and they’re easy to eat.”

As well, the Café Connect menu options are a ‘mood lift’, said Kim.

“They’re something a little bit different. When people weren’t getting out much during the COVID-19 shutdown, they had restaurant-quality meals delivered to their door.”

So, even as the region gets back to a sense of normalcy, it’s still good to be able to offer recipients of Meals on Wheels the extra menu options from Café Connect. Currently, they can choose from Meals on Wheels menu of 28 meal options, plus the hot meal option.

Jamie said: “There are some customers that have been getting the service for the long haul; they really love it. The feedback we’ve received is that they enjoy the extra options with hand-made pies very popular in the colder months.”

Typically, Meals on Wheels delivers about 450  meals per week, and overall there was an increase of  2,500  meals during the pandemic shutdown. Each year an incredible 23,000 meals go to Orange region recipients.

Supported workers from LiveBetter help deliver the meals and chat with recipients to see how they’re faring. Those workers are among the 130 volunteers who help deliver Meals on Wheels throughout Orange.

Kim said: “Last year, we had to suspend those volunteers due to COVID-19, so we were relying on staff not just from my team but from other sections of council to do the driving. For example, casual council staff from the theatre, information centre, museum and other areas that could not operate, were able to get a few extra paid hours. This also helped continuity as we had to have the same team delivering to clients for infection control during the pandemic.”

LiveBetter’s Kristen Hunter manages work placements for customers on NDIS plans, some of whom opt to volunteer for Meals on Wheels.

“Our LiveBetter customers help with the catering, labelling, and the delivery – it’s part of the vocational pathways program. They get to build on their communication skills and get out and about in the community. Doing volunteer work is crucial for their skill development in looking for a position, hopefully in mainstream employment and it’s something they can put on their resume.

“The partnership is based on community, and it goes to show we all work together as a whole to support the Meals on Wheels Service.”

To qualify to receive the Meals on Wheels service, you need to be registered with My Aged Care be aged at least 65, and live independently in the community. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50-plus, NDIS approved clients, and homeless low-income people can also opt into the service through the registration assessment process. Kim said the service is flexible, so you can receive meals fortnightly, weekly, or every business day. They send out frozen meals on Fridays for the weekend.

The service is also handy for older adults after a hospital discharge. They can opt into the service for the first six weeks after they’ve returned home.

Kim said: “Our core business is to ensure the nutritional needs of our clients are being met  by providing meals with high protein and low sodium. An important aspect of that is that holistic wellness and reablement – having nutritious meals to prevent clients from losing interest in food and eating. The meals have to catch their eye and look enticing.” she said.

“Having a meal delivered takes a lot of the stress out of food preparation for elderly people who may not feel up to cooking. Sometimes it’s just too hard. Having the meal delivered to their door ready to eat encourages them to eat well, and that knock on the door is a bit of a welfare check. If a client isn’t 100%, then the person delivering the meal will often pick that up and let the provider know.

Café Connect recently released its fifth version of the menu, which got council’s tick of approval.

“Jamie’s meals and the frozen meals are the same price $6.50 delivered to your door. That’s due to the café’s meals being subsidised by Meals on Wheels, thanks to emergency funding from the Department of Health, which will continue until the end of June next year,” said Kim.

LiveBetter is a not-for-profit provider of aged and disability services across regional NSW and central Queensland, with a focus on ensuring programs and services are provided by local staff and tailored to the individual needs of people and their communities.

Get in touch with our local LiveBetter team on 1800 580 580 to find out more about our services.