Support agencies rally to support vulnerable

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Keeping Dunedin’s elderly and vulnerable people safe, well, and informed, are top priorities for social agencies and rest-homes in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Early this week, Age Concern Otago adopted pandemic response protocols, suspending weekly in-person visits for 142 older people, and ensuring Meals on Wheels drivers maintained “social distancing” when delivering meals.

Age Concern volunteers deliver more than 550 meals each week for St Barnabas Home and for Compass in the Dunedin area.

Age Concern Otago executive officer Debbie George said visitor service volunteers and staff were keeping in regular contact with older people, mostly by phone, but were not going into homes.

“These are precautionary measures, bearing in mind that we serve the most vulnerable in society,” Ms George said.

“We are doing whatever we can to stay in touch with people, because we need to ensure that people are not becoming isolated and fearful at home.”

Salvation Army Dunedin Community Ministries manager David McKenzie said a lack of good information was a problem for some clients, and staff were working to improve this.

“We are working to support people day-by-day, and also putting systems in place in case of lockdown,” Mr McKenzie said.

While many in the community were stocking up on groceries and medicines, a lot of vulnerable people did not have the resources to do so.

“We are looking at helping people in this area now.”

And while the Salvation Army food bank had a good supply of “certain kinds of things”, there were gaps.

“At present, we are trusting the advice we have been given that the food chain is OK, and keeping things as normal as possible,” he said.

However, donations of “anything at all” would be gratefully received by the food bank, particularly fresh fruit and vegetables.

Mr McKenzie believed the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic would be of growing concern, especially among people on casual contracts such as hospitality workers.

Mosgiel Community Foodbank co-ordinator Michelle Kerr said new protocols had been introduced so “face-to-face” contact” could be avoided when goods were collected from the food bank in Wickliffe St.

When the food bank was open the door would remain closed, she said.

Outside the food bank, clients would tick a list of available goods they needed.

The client then must sanitise their hands before leaving it for a staff member to collect before returning to their vehicle to wait.

When the box of food was ready it would be dropped outside the front door for the client to collect.

Supplies at the food bank were good and demand remained steady, she said.

Family Works director Carmen Batchelor said national emergencies, such as Covid-19, put the most vulnerable populations at even greater risk.

She had noticed a slight increase in demand for food bank services, and there was limited stock of most items.

“We expect this demand to increase given current buying patterns at supermarkets where supplies of bread, milk and toilet paper are running low.

“We will be giving priority to those people who fit with our normal criteria for food bank assistance at this time.”

She encouraged people to check in with friends, family and older neighbours to offer practical help, such as shopping and looking after children.