Rachel Duff, left, is the woman behind the nutritious meals, along with her kitchen team
IT’S 10.30am on a drizzly August morning and inside the gleaming stainless kitchen in the Cloverfield Day Care Centre in Glin, everything is moving swiftly but steadily towards one objective: to plate up dinners and desserts in time for the drivers Eamon Sweeney and Jimmy Keane to hit the road before noon.
Just two years after the launch of Glin Meals on Wheels, over 35,000 meals have been cooked and delivered daily to senior citizens across four parishes. Every day, too, the residents of the 20 sheltered homes in the Cloverfield estate have dinner served up to them from the same kitchen team.
“We get some assistance from the HSE but we run it, we finance it but it really pays for itself,” explains John Anthony Culhane, chairman of Glin Homes for the Elderly.
Resident Sammy O’Sullivan is an enthusiastic user of the service. “It’s lovely. You couldn’t complain,” he said.
He comes for his dinner every day at the Cloverfield Day Care Centre and his favourite is bacon and cabbage. The dinners, he added, are also great value for money at €5 a day for a main course and a dessert. “It’s fantastic. You couldn’t go wrong,” he grinned.
Theresa Riordan is another regular user of the residents’ service “I love it,” she said. “It gets me out of the house for a hour every day and you have the company. It is great to have it. Even if you don’t come down, they will bring it up to you.”
But it is the outside service which has really taken off, prompted by a survey aimed at finding out what was needed to help senior citizens in the area. Notices were placed in local newspapers and the service started in the summer of 2017.
“We started off the Meals on Wheels hoping to get about 10 people,” Mr Culhane explained. Now they have customers in Glin, Loughill/Ballyhahill, Athea and Tarbert.
“The beauty of it is, it is not just delivering meals on wheels. It’s also about seeing how people are getting on, having a chat. Our drivers are great.”
Mary Hogan, another member of the organising committee, agreed that the service fulfils a social need. She went around on the drivers’ routes, she explained, and found people were waiting at the door, eager to meet the drivers and looking forward to the dinner and the chat. For some, the drivers, Eamon and Jimmy, might be the only people they see and speak to that day, she pointed out.
“There is an increasing need for meals on wheels,” committee member Joe Kennedy said. All too often, older people or those who live alone don’t bother cooking and fall back on eating sandwiches. “We fill a very identified need. The meal is a nutritious meal and it is a proven fact that people who have nutritious food every day live longer and have healthier lives.”
Ballymaloe-trained chef Rachel Duff is the woman behind the nutritious meals, along with her kitchen team. “I have a brilliant team,” she said. “If I didn’t have this team, we couldn’t do it.”
The emphasis is on fresh food and the kitchen garden located a short walk from the kitchen is fast becoming a good source. “We have to buy in too but we have all our own herbs. We have a lot of unusual herbs you wouldn’t find in a supermarket,” she said. Potatoes, cherry tomatoes in the greenhouse, rhubarb, the list goes on. On the day the Limerick Leader visited, rhubarb from the garden was picked to make rhubarb crumble.
“We have a menu for the week which changes from week to week,” Rachel explained. And every day brings a different dinner. Customers get the menu the week before and make their choices and the kitchen keeps a list of what people do not want. Some might say no to peas or ask for extra mash. Sometimes, people want something entirely different and the kitchen tries to be as accommodating as possible. It’s all about good, home-cooked food, with home-made bread and desserts, Rachel said.
The deliveries, in two customised vans, begin about mid-day. “It’s great craic meeting people,” said driver Jimmy Keane.
“If people have any problem, they tell us,” explained driver Eamon Sweeney.
But the Meals on Wheels service is just one of a number of services run from the Cloverfield Day Care Centre. Yoga, Pilates, painting, cards and knitting are some of the activities provided for at the centre and there is an open day every month where groups come from other parishes for a social gathering which includes dinner as well as Bingo and entertainment.
“We have recently bought a site and we intend extending the number of sheltered houses,” Mr Culhane said. There will be six houses, two designated for Independent Living, in the first phase with a further six coming on stream later.