Geesala Meals on Wheels has been a lifeline for many during the pandemic.
With 100 clients, they deliver an astonishing 600 hot meals a week from Monday to Saturday across an area that is the longest Meals on Wheels route in Mayo.
Geesala Meals on Wheels has been an integral part of life in Erris since 2007 but Covid-19 has led to even greater demand for the service.
“We have a lot more service users in the last six months than we ever had before. Demand has risen by at least 20 per cent,” said Community Services Programme Manager, Fiona Doocey.
“We now deliver over 100 meals per day, in communities throughout Erris, including the Geesala/Doohoma, Bangor Erris and Bellacorick area, and the Belmullet/Binghamstown and Blacksod areas.
“Many of the people we deliver to daily are living alone in rural and isolated locations. Our meals on wheels delivery service has always been a vital service for these people and even more important through the Covid-19 crisis,” she added.
They are one of the only providers in the county who deliver a hot meal every day with everything produced in their own kitchen using the best local produce.
86-year old Noel Wilson is one Geesala Meals on Wheel’s much-loved clients. The Donegal native, who lives in Corclough, first came to Belmullet in 1956 when he worked with the ESB. He said been availing of the service for more than a decade.
“It’s a fantastic service. The food is so tasty and well-prepared and there is a great variety. It’s great having someone call every week. It’s something I really look forward to,” said Noel.
The service has handled the challenges posed by the pandemic with resilience and determination.
“It has been challenging. We have made sure that all the measures and protocols are in place to make sure our staff our safe and the clients we visit every day are safe,” said Fiona.
Many of the Meals on Wheels clients live in very remote and isolated locations.
“A lot of people live away from main roads and a main town and there just isn’t an opportunity to go for a meal in a restaurant or anything like that,” said Fiona.
Emigration has always been a part of life in Erris and the Covid-19 crisis has brought family distance into even sharper focus.
“Some people have families that might night not be nearby. We had a lot of clients who have sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters who have emigrated. They don’t have a big wide connection anymore and the family isn’t around to help. That’s especially the case now because family members can’t come back to visit them as often,” said Fiona.
Meals on Wheels is much more than a hot dinner for their clients.
“It’s a lifeline in terms of human and connection and contact. It’s more than just a meal. The interaction between our staff and service user every day keeps them connected to the community and they can keep up to date with what’s happening,” said Fiona.
Geesala Meals on Wheels also delivers the Western People each week to its many clients.
“The newspaper really has been vital. The Western People has been a huge way for people to stay connected as well,” she added.
The service is part of Comhurchumann Forbatha Cill tSéadhna Teo.
Comhurchumann Forbatha Cill tSéadhna Teo is a community social enterprise providing services including Meals on Wheels, Community Laundry Service, Community Café, visitation and phone call services, shopping and medication pick-up, daycare for the elderly, pendant alarms, community education programmes, and employment and work placement programmes.
“Our vision is to develop and improve community services and facilities for all people living and working in our community,” said Fiona.
Comhurchumann Forbatha Cill tSéadhna Teo is governed by a voluntary board of nine members.
“Like other businesses we trade in goods and services on an ongoing basis. However, any surpluses generated by the Comharchumann are reinvested into our organisation to help us sustain and develop our services,” she stated.
Fiona stressed that the Meals on Wheels Service is not just for the elderly and does not have to be a long-term commitment.
We also do a temporary service. There is no contract or anything like that. You can come and go as you please. That’ helps a lot of people when they are discharged from hospital We get a lot of calls from the HSE and public health nurses asking for a temporary service to make sure this helps the person when they arrive home. They can avail of the service for a few weeks while they are in recovery.
“That the main thing we are trying to stress. We will delivery to anybody, especially now. It’s not just the elderly who are isolated,” said Fiona.
Like many organisations fundraising has posed a major challenge for Geesals Meals on Wheels.
“The capacity has definitely increased for Meals On Wheels however our funding has stayed the same. That’s always been a challenge but it’s an even bigger challenge now because we always would have relied on fundraising and events which obviously we can’t do anymore,” said the Geesala woman.
“We want to thank our local GAA club Kiltane for the recent online fundraiser for Geesala Meals on Wheels and the public for their support,” she added.
Fiona heaped praise on all those who keep the service going. “We want to thank our volunteers for their time, energy, and support, and also other local organisations in our community, who support us including Geesala Community Council, and the local RSS and TÚS employment schemes.
“We want to thank our staff for their hard work and dedication and our customers for their continues support.”
Should you or someone you know be interested in availing of the Meals on Wheels Service, either long-term or short-term, please contact 097 86868.
They also provide a Community Laundry Service, open from 10am to 4pm, Monday to Friday at Geesala Community Centre. It is open to all members of the public with the option of a collection and delivery service available. For further information please contact 097 86781.