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Image contributed – www.kevinhogan.com.au Iluka Meals on Wheels volunteers have appealed to Page MP Kevin Hogan, to reverse a decision to cease the cooking of meals at its Iluka kitchen. The decision means that two permanent part time cooks will be made redundant and volunteers will subsequently deliver frozen meals prepared by a frozen meal wholesaler. File Image

Volunteers ‘devastated’ by Iluka Meals on Wheels changes

Geoff Helisma

The decision to cease producing hot and/or locally prepared meals at the Iluka Meals on Wheels (IMoW) kitchen has drawn pleas from volunteers to “reverse this decision”.

In a letter to Page MP Kevin Hogan, a volunteer writes, “I would like to make you aware, if you’re not already, of the above devastating decision which will affect many residents of the Lower Clarence community.”

The volunteer questioned the funding guidelines, writing that the kitchen prepares “hot meals daily for the wider Lower Clarence community, including Yamba, Maclean, Illarwil, Woombah and Ashby, yet Commonwealth funding of $70,000 per year is for the Iluka community only, and the wider Lower Clarence population is not considered within the confines of the funding criteria.

“Funding for the Grafton community is much higher, yet if funding guidelines allowed for the total population of the Lower Clarence community, funding would (probably) be more than sufficient to maintain this essential service.”

Manager of IMoW, Townsend-based Connect You Too, advised volunteers in a FAQ information sheet that the cost of employing two cooks was $113,347 a year; hence the volunteer wrote in the letter to Mr Hogan that Connect You Too manager Kerrie Little “had stated that an additional $70,000 per year funding is required to maintain the present service to the community”.

“Surely something can be done to save this service!” the volunteer wrote.

“I’m asking that you look into how the funding is allocated and request that the whole of the Lower Clarence be included in the criteria.

“With not much time til the end of June I am asking that you make this a priority and reverse this decision.”

Meanwhile, Meals on Wheels Australia (MoWA) has long been lobbying the Australian Government to increase its meal subsidy.

In its submission to the 2020/21 federal budget, MoWA pointed out that subsiding “meal services currently comprise just 3.3 per cent of the $2.4 billion Commonwealth Home Support Programme (CHSP) budget”.

“Volunteers contribute $600 million in labour to keep operating costs down.

“The older consumer meets the shortfall; MoW consumers pay, on average, between 50 per cent and 80 per cent of the total cost of the service, depending on where they live.”

In the submission, MoWA wrote that it was receiving “$4.85 per meal output” and that “consumers cover the shortfall of up to $14 per meal”.

The submission called for “raising the threshold CHSP government contribution from $4.85 to $12 per meal”.

From the government’s perspective, it announced on May 18, 2021 that it “will increase the minimum meals unit price [from $4.90] to $7.50, to help aged care providers deliver meals to older Australians receiving aged care at home”.

Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care Services Richard Colbeck said in the media release that “it was a significant step forward to reinforce the tremendous efforts of food providers, which help meet the nutritional needs of an increasing number of older Australians”.

“This vital measure puts the health and wellbeing of older Australians first, while strengthening the viability of meal providers across the country,” Mr Colbeck said.

Mr Colbeck said 76,000 MoW volunteers delivered “more than 10 million meals every year”.

“Volunteers are the backbone of Australia – but across the aged care sector, each and every day, there are remarkable examples from people who put the needs of others ahead of their own,” he said.

“These people are ultimately providing an important mechanism for older Australians to stay connected, healthy and happy.”

When contacted by The Independent, Mr Hogan provided the following statement:

“I have been in contact with Kerry from Connect To You who has advised Meals on Wheels Iluka currently provide meals to 40 clients, 10 of which receive freshly cooked meals. Connect You Too is a local charity who assist those independently living at home. They maintain the Iluka kitchen and deliver meals to residents in Iluka and the surrounding areas. 
Connect You Too receives $70,000 a year in government funding for Iluka and also received an additional $44,000 over the past two years.  I am looking to source additional grant funding opportunities and encouraging Iluka Meals on Wheels to apply for them. 
 Kerry has also advised Connect You Too will continue to provide meals to their Iluka clients. These meals are the same that providers in other areas produce. They are approved under the National Meals Guidelines developed by the Australian Meals on Wheels Association.”

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