They meet them every week on their delivery runs. Lonely old people.
"Loneliness is a major issue amongst the elderly," Tender Loving Cuisine (TLC) delivery driver Betty Rooney, 67, said yesterday. "A lot of the people we deliver meals to don't have anyone come over. They look forward to our deliveries and not just for the food," Mrs. Rooney said.
It's an all too familiar story for delivery drivers for the fast-growing Meals-on-Wheels alternative in Sydney, Newcastle and the Central Coast.
"The elderly are terrified of going into nursing homes," said driver Kathleen Kinchington. "They just want to stay in their own home as long as they can."
"Many of our clients are in their eighties and nineties," TLC Chief Executive Jack Barker said yesterday. "We even have clients who are over 100."
The average age of Mrs. Kinchington's clients is 80 with the oldest 101 and according to Mrs. Kinchington as "bright as a button." "I don't see them as clients but friends. When I go delivering I'm visiting my friends," she said. "I reckon I've posted a million letters. These people can't get out to do things and some letters just can't wait for relatives to show up. I've also mopped floors and put meals in the microwave for them. It's all part of the TLC service."
"We don't just deliver the meals and leave them on the doorstep. There's a relationship involved with each client," Central Coast courier Paul Segur said this week. "I've done everything from hang up pictures, hammer in nails, change light globes, fix doors, even opening jars. We go to a lot of houses and all the people want to do is talk." "The average age of the clients is 75-80 but we had one lady who was ninety-eight," said Mr. Segur. "We meet some very special people. There was one couple we provided meals for. The wife was blind and the husband deaf. They helped each other get along."
Mrs. Rooney, who delivers meals in Sydney?s eastern suburbs, reports a similar story. "The relatives might only come once a week or even once a month. It can be very lonely living by yourself for that length of time," she said.
Client Services representative Maria Natoli confirmed: "We have clients who order just enough for a week?s worth of food so they are guaranteed a visit each week." Being on the phone every day means close contact with clients and its something Mrs. Natoli relishes. "I feel part of their family. I even know the phone numbers off by heart." "It's like we are friends providing support to these people, most of whom would be in nursing homes without our meals."
"It's something you can't help. I really enjoy talking to them," fellow Client Services representative Kevin Tallentire said. "I speak with a ninety-six year old each week and she's as sharp as a tack. You get to know them so well you think, I'd love to go around and meet them." However, Mr. Tallentire believes his conversations with the elderly each week helps them to live at home longer. "Often I will check to see if they really need the number of meals they have ordered. It's all part of the friendly service," he said.
Research has found that loneliness plays a big role in raising blood pressure among the elderly, in the process raising the risk of heart disease, stroke and other health problems. Previous research also showed a link between loneliness and increased symptoms of depression, stress-hormone levels and blood-vessel problems. Tender Loving Cuisine was born in 1995 when a close friend of Jack Barker had a car accident causing serious brain damage. To help out Jack arranged meals for the family during his recovery. TLC is a community organisation that does not seek or receive and assistance from the government.
Copyright, Tender Loving Cuisine