Meals on Wheels, more than just a meal

04 March 2024

Meals on Wheels, more than just a meal

A few days before Meals on Wheels Week in Quebec (March 10–16, 2024), we chat with Karine Robinette, Executive Director of the Regroupement des popotes roulantes, about the crucial role of Meals on Wheels in the daily at-home routines of people being cared for. A service that is also much appreciated by caregivers.


What is Meals on Wheels?

Meals on Wheels is a community organization that helps people stay in their own homes as long as possible, while respecting their choices and dignity. This is accomplished by delivering delicious, nutritious, complete, ready-to-eat meals to their homes. In addition, our volunteers keep a watchful eye on our clients, 96% of whom are seniors.

By “home” we mean the place where the person resides, evolves and spends their time. Meals in seniors’ residences can often be expensive, and many find it difficult to cook for themselves. People living there can therefore also receive Meals on Wheels services.

What benefits do Meals on Wheels have to offer caregivers?

The goal of these organizations is to make people’s daily lives easier. Cooking is a big part of everyday life! Meals on Wheels makes that one less a thing to worry about.

Before I became Executive Director of the Regroupement, I worked for 10 years in an organization that offered a Meals on Wheels service, sometimes I would also deliver meals. One day I arrived at a house to deliver a meal. The lady had left all her stove burners on! I turned the stove off, called the contact person (in this case, her daughter) and an outreach worker to report the incident.

Keeping a watchful eye when meals are delivered takes a huge weight off the shoulders of families and caregivers. Knowing that, thanks to Meals on Wheels, our elderly relative eats well, regularly and nutritiously is truly invaluable. Knowing that, every day, someone knocks on the door of the frail or elderly person I’m caring for and makes sure that all is well, takes a lot of worry off my mind!

Is Meals on Wheels changing the caregiver-care receiver relationship?

Removing the burden of cooking frees up space for other things, such as spending time with each other, having more time and energy, and being available to nurture the relationship.

I remember a young woman who was caring for her grandfather. He didn’t want anything to do with Meals on Wheels; he just wanted to eat good meals whipped up by his granddaughter and nothing else. So we came up with a strategy: deliver the meals to … the granddaughter’s house! She would heat them up, put them in a different container, then take them to her grandfather’s house. She really wanted to help, but she had her own company and children. She was the one who came up with this system that allowed her to continue supporting her grandfather while respecting his limits.

What do you do when the person you’re helping doesn’t want to?

You can’t force the issue, but you can adopt certain tactics! Sometimes, I’d bring caregivers into the office and give them a meal for their relative to try. And once you’ve tried Meals on Wheels, you’re hooked! Anyway, there’s no contract to sign for Meals on Wheels. If you don’t want it anymore, we simply stop providing the service.

How do caregivers feel about the idea of the person they’re caring for receiving a meal?

There are three phases. When the person starts receiving Meals on Wheels, caregivers are disappointed in themselves. They say, “I would so much have liked to have been able to continue cooking for them, but I need help, I can’t do it anymore…”. So, at first, emotions are mixed.

When Meals on Wheels is up and running, the caregiver breathes a sigh of relief. Then there’s a phase of acceptance: the caregiver accepts their limitations. Then comes the question I’ve heard so often: “Why didn’t I call you sooner? This is the phase of gratitude for the organization’s service and the key work of the volunteers.

Are Meals on Wheels services reserved for the elderly or people losing their autonomy?

Seniors are less keen on cooking for themselves. With health often declining and certain abilities affected, cooking becomes a chore. Some are still able to cook, but no longer have the desire to do so, and sometimes the appetite isn’t there either.

When they start receiving Meals on Wheels, especially if they’re alone in their home, the volunteer’s visit becomes a festive occasion. It’s a social link, a moment of conviviality and sharing. This contact is very important.

The Meals on Wheels network comprises 152 organizations. Each Meals on Wheels organization defines its own eligibility criteria, membership process and operations. To learn more, contact your local Meals on Wheels organization.

A caregiver supporting someone close to them is considering Meals on Wheels. What do they need to do?

Go to the Regroupement québécois des popotes roulantes website and click on « Trouver une popote » (Find a Meals on Wheels). You can then search for the Meals on Wheels location nearest your address.

You can also call the Regroupement directly at 1 877 277-2722, ext. 205. My colleague Shan Charbonneau receives many calls from caregivers.

Is there always a cost, and is the service included for tax purposes?

The Meals on Wheels service is never free, but organizations always try to offer the lowest possible rates. In 2023, the average price of a meal including appetizer, main course and dessert was $7.30. In some cases, Meals on Wheels also offer social discount rates.

Once a year, the organization issues a statement showing the total number of meals and the amount eligible for the tax credit. According to Revenu Québec rules, the tax credit applies only to the cost of preparing and delivering the meal.

Semaine québécoise des popotes roulantes 2024

How is it “a vital link in home support,” as I read on the Meals on Wheels Week in Quebec website?

A chain is made up of a series of links; if one link is removed, the chain is broken. At the Regroupement, we realize that Meals on Wheels is not enough on its own. To enable a person to be “well,” you need a whole range of essential services, including Meals on Wheels.

This year’s slogan for National Meals on Wheels Week is “More than just a meal. Meals on Wheels, a community of support.” The notion of a community of support highlights the work of all our stakeholders, volunteers and community partners. It encompasses everything that helps maintain and support a person in their own home.

Many thanks to Karine Robinette for sharing this insight, and happy Meals on Wheels Week to all! There are 300 Meals on Wheels across Quebec, with over 4 million meals delivered in fiscal 2022–2023.

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