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Meals on wheels in a changing environment

The Circular met Mary Hickey, the Meals on Wheels (MoW) co-ordinator for the Ranelagh Rathmines(working from Beechwood community centre) area for a coffee and to have a chat about Meals on Wheels. For the past 36 years members of the community around Beechwood have come together to deliver hot meals to the ill and elderly in their locality. Meals on Wheels is run by volunteers providing a 5-day service for their clients.

Meals on Wheels has been running from Beechwood community centre on a consistent basis since 1980. Local co-ordinator Mary Hickey first got involved after seeing a notice in her local supermarket that was looking for a driver. She then decided that she wanted to get involved and later she was approached to take on the job of co-ordinator. “ I just think the community is very important especially in the area you live in and to be able to give back something to the community is wonderful”

Beechwood has a great team of volunteers, a lot of whom have been there since the start. They tend to bring in at least one new volunteer each month. The organisation relies solely on volunteer workers and they are the reason the project has been able to run for so long. The community has such a wide range of volunteers of all ages helping. “We have young mothers with small children who are on leave from work, we have a lot of people who have just retired and we also have people who are still working and can fit it in with there jobs”

The organisation operates on a 5 day week basic “we don’t cover holidays like Christmas, Easter Sunday or bank holidays”

Volunteer delivering a meal, Photo Credit Sadbh Maguire
Volunteer delivering a meal, Photo Credit Sadbh Maguire

Every community has a different set up. For their meals on wheels Beechwood have an arrangement with a local supermarket, Morton’s. The main course meals are provided by Morton’s and then the volunteers make up the desserts. The desserts tend to be homemade. The meals vary from day to day with dishes from shepherd’s pie to a fish dish or sometimes chicken or roast beef. Each meal will always consist of vegetables, protein and carbohydrates. In the Summer time the desserts will have a lot of fresh fruit and in the Winter a more substantial crumble or similar.

The organisation has to closely follow HSE regulations and so Morton’s delivers the main courses to the Beechwood community centre. There, a volunteer cook will reheat the meals and prepare the desserts and get them all ready for the volunteer drivers. The drivers deliver the meals to the clients. Due to the large number of clients they have a minimum of two volunteer drivers for each day.

“Most trips will take about an hour between driving and delivering”

“Over the years, on special occasions like Christmas, we try to give something extra to the clients like a gift, this could be like a plant or fresh fruit. We try to vary it each year. “

Packed up and ready to go!, Photo Credit Sadbh Maguire
Packed up and ready to go!, Photo Credit Sadbh Maguire

The clients are asked to pay €3.00 per day for a hot meal from Meals on Wheels. While the organisation is staffed entirely by volunteers that do not charge for their time and work, the HSE provide a contribution of €1.50 towards each meal. The Beechwood MoW organisation is finding it increasingly expensive to provide the service. “ We have to get our own insurance now and soon we will have to pay rent to use the community centre.” The volunteers have to do various fundraising events throughout the year in order to keep the organisation running. This means more work and longer hours for the volunteers.

The volunteers love to involve more of the community. So, once a year they team up with one of the local primary schools, Scoil Bhride, and bring along pupils from 6th class for the deliveries. “We’ve found it a real eye opener for the children and it’s amazing that after being involved they suddenly become more award of who lives beside them. We also found that our clients love to have a chat with the younger kids. For some of our clients Meals on Wheels volunteers can be the only people they see all day.”

Beechwood MoW has found that a lot of the younger drivers bring along their own kids for the deliveries to help the children to learn more about their community and what goes on. “They find it a wonderful way for the children to learn about their community.”

When Mary was asked what kind of people sought meals on wheels she told me “a lot of our clients are referred to us by the local medical practice down in Ranelagh. We also get clients who hear about us by word of mouth. We get a lot of elderly people who can no longer cook for themselves. We get terminally ill clients, we also get a few clients who may have broken a bone and have restricted mobility and just cannot get around the way they would like to so they might just get it for the period of their convalescence.”

There are many Meals on Wheels organisations all over Ireland and each community organises itself in their own way. For example, the Rathgar Meals on Wheels has as bigger facility and is therefor able to buy, prepare and cook all their own meals. They have a large number of clients and at Christmas time they prepare special hampers that include seasonal treats as well as emergency provisions such as nutritious meals in dried form.


Because of the tighter financial controls that have been recently introduced by the Government after several scandals, there is a lot more administration work involved and it is becoming much more expensive to run the Beechwood MoW organisation. On a local level they will be charged a rent by the community centre from next year and a further impact is that Beechwood will have to set themselves up as a charity. While this will enable them to fundraise more effectively it all adds to cost. All of the additional administration and overhead is making to difficult for Beechwood MoW to stick to the purely voluntary aspect that they started out with.

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