The group, which was initially founded by Reverend FL and Mrs Gardner, has been delivering nutritious meals to those in need for over five decades, with many of the drivers who attended the celebration, having volunteered for decades. The original founders approached the Auckland Hospital Board in 1965, to discuss ways to assist those who could not cook for themselves while they were recuperating from ill health or disability.
By 15 November 1965, nearly 100 volunteers assisted Ray Barnett and his wife, who were caterers at the Manukau Golf Club, prepare the meals and deliver them to 24 recipients. As the years went on, the number of recipients continued to grow and three delivery teams, named ‘Papa’ and ‘Kura’ as well as ‘Hunga’ (which can be translated to mean ‘people), began delivering.
Each team included a team leader, who was responsible for contacting each driver, five times a week, to let them know of any changes to their route. There was also an overall coordinator who liaised with the service provider.
Thanks to such the teams’ organised and customer-focused attitude, within five years the Papakura Meals on Wheels team had delivered approximately 12,500 meals to local people in need. “The recipients paid 20 cents a day for a hot meal consisting of meat, vegetables and a pudding. The drivers would have to collect money from the clients and give them a receipt,” says past treasurer and coordinator, Denise Levien.
But the friendly drivers weren’t just responsible for ensuring their meal recipients were well fed, the group also included an auxiliary group of people who visited the clients, organised outings and transported clients to afternoon teas. A Christmas dinner party complete with entertainment, an annual concert and various outings were also organised annually.
Due to a variety of factors, as the years progressed, there was less demand for meals as prospective clients moved into retirement and independent living complexes and more services became available to those who needed them.
By 2016, the delivery teams were cut down from three to two and drivers began to retire. Some of these drivers had been volunteering since the group was first founded, including Phyll Topp who was president for nine years and treasurer for 39. She was also secretary for seven years and was still a committee member until the group disbanded.
Due to the dwindling numbers, the meals on wheels group was forced to disband in November last year, after a commercial contract was offered. “Our committee decided to call it a day and retire.” says Denise.
“Don’t be sorry because it’s over, smile because we helped keep it going 53 years.”