New recruits join army of volunteers to feed and befriend older people

21 Apr 2020

As the effects of the Coronavirus and subsequent lockdown was felt across the UK, Jewish Care was prepared and ready to call in a new army of volunteers to assist in the mammoth effort to support older, vulnerable members in the local community. A surge of calls from anxious older people and their relatives were received by the Jewish Care Helpline. The Social Work and Community Support teams transformed themselves into a phone and virtual service and it became clear that extra volunteers would be an essential lifeline for our local communities.

Over 630 new volunteers have stepped up to help with befriending and Meals on Wheels deliveries to support Jewish Care’s existing army of 3000 of volunteers across their services in London and the South East.

The chefs and catering team together with redeployed staff at Jewish Care’s Redbridge Jewish Community Centre are now making hundreds of meals a day for volunteers to deliver to older people. The staff are ensuring that meals are being delivered to older, isolated people from communities in Essex including Southend and to Stepney, Hackney and Canary Wharf.

Melanie Shutz, Assistant Headteacher of King Solomon High School began volunteering for Meals on Wheels after the schools closed. She says, “I wanted to help as I have always lived and worked in Redbridge and have close ties with Jewish Care’s Redbridge Jewish Community Centre. Our school motto from Ethics of the Fathers, is “If I am not for myself who will be for me but if I am only for myself, who am I? and If not now, when?”

“I signed up three weeks ago as a telephone befriender and I’ll now be keeping in touch with six older members of the community every week.

“Some people are so isolated that they may not open their mouths to speak all day unless they get a call from a befriender. It really showed me the power of befriending and also the value of the regular services that Jewish Care run at Redbridge Jewish Community Centre for example, where they would normally be enjoying activities, socialising and having a hot meal several days a week. These services are so vital, especially in our aging local community.  

“My usual job is socially very interactive and I work face-to-face all week round with pupils, colleagues and parents on constant deadlines. This time is giving me an opportunity to reflect on elements of our community who don’t live this way and is helping me to understand that time can mean something else to older people members of the community. Now they are educating me.”

Sylvie, 84, from Clayhall, usually goes to Ladies Who Lunch to enjoy lunch, chat and play cards with friends at Jewish Care's Redbridge Jewish Community Centre and to the monthly salt beef and latkas bar, where she says “We have a good time, there’s always someone you know and always someone to talk to.”

She says "The Meals on Wheels are a great help and they are working so hard in the office to get them out to everyone. I'm getting more than I did before, with everything that's going on and I’m really pleased to be getting my meals. It’s good to know you've got a good meal each day. I put them in the microwave, I’m very satisfied with them.

"The other day one of the volunteers at the Centre called me to see how I was getting on. I’m keeping in touch with everyone at the Centre and I’m on the phone to family. Last week, I started talking to them on Facetime.  It's very important to stay connected to everyone and we’re very lucky to have RJCC and the community."

The new fleet of Meals on Wheels delivery drivers, who are now able to pick up delicious, frozen Kosher meals from Jewish Care hubs and deliver them to those in need.

Another new volunteer, Danielle Krist, 28, is a secondary school English teacher for Years 7-11 at Braeside School in Buckhurst Hill. Though she is still sending lesson plans over to her students and doing online teaching, she has more free time than usual so she signed up to deliver Meals on Wheels for the local community and started delivering meals.

She says, “I found myself with some spare time on my hands in between online teaching so I wanted to help out. My Grandma was at Jewish Care’s Vi & John Rubens House and both my grandparents used Meals on Wheels when they were alive. They also went to Jewish Care’s Redbridge Jewish Community Centre (RJCC). It meant so much to them so I couldn’t think of a better organisation to volunteer for.

“My aunt has been delivering Meals on Wheels for some time and now my Mum has signed up and is starting too. I think it’s important to give back to the community - especially those who need it the most and to look after those who once looked after us.”

She says, “The Meals on Wheels team at Jewish Care ring me to check if I can deliver a couple of days or the day before and I go to RJCC at around 10:45am to pick up the meals. I’m off with the meals by 11:15am and have around five clients to deliver to.

“The team have already arranged a place for me to leave the meals and the clients know when I’ll be coming so I ring the doorbell, leave the meals in the pre-arranged place and then check that they have come to the door to get them. I stay to chat to them, standing a good four metres away, because I know that I am most likely the only person many of them will see that day. I’ve found most people are staying positive and in good spirits. They’re just so thankful.”

Together with the telephone befrienders, who are a lifeline to connect those in isolation to one another, the Meals on Wheels volunteers are making a huge difference.

Chief Executive, Daniel Carmel-Brown, said, “Dealing with the outbreak has been like a restructure overnight. We had to transform day care and community centre operations into a very different set of services. Food for older, isolated people who don’t have the support network that some are privileged to have, is critical. They need to receive food and our Meals on Wheels services have quadrupled. There are many more for whom social contact is now desperately needed in our community.

“We are incredibly grateful and overwhelmed by the way that younger members of our community and others, all the way up to the age of 70, have come forward in their droves to establish not only a mass Meals on Wheels but a telephone and virtual befriending service as well, to become a lifeline for meals and social contact to those who now desperately need it in our community.

“We are so thankful to have the support of our existing and new volunteers in the community to help us to meet this need.”