Meal centre overcomes finance battle
GEORGE Young didn't miss the opportunity to take a pot shot at the State Government last Friday when he presided at the opening of Ballina Meals on Wheels' new home at 62 Crane Street.
This year marks the 41st anniversary of the volunteer service that delivers 110 meals to elderly and disabled people in Ballina Shire.
The new More than a Meal Centre is capable of producing four times that number, as well as allowing clients to come to the centre for meals and barbecues, providing a social outlet for the aged people in the community.
But it was a long road to get Meals on Wheels into the Ballina Shire Council-owned building from the former headquarters at Ballina District Hospital.
The committee had planned to move into the community centre which is currently being built at Treelands Reserve, but a delay in construction in 2006 didn't suit Meals on Wheels and an application was made to lease the building at 62 Crane Street.
But the residential property had to be refitted with a commercial kitchen and catering equipment to meet health standards.
And Mr Young, the president of the Ballina Meals on Wheels committee, didn't miss the chance to tell the gathering that the NSW Department of Ageing Disability and Home Care (DADHC) didn't come up with any money to support the $166,000 refurbishment of the building.
Firstly he said neither the department nor Ballina hospital would cover the insurances of volunteers over the past five years when they were operating out of a cramped 'non-conforming OH&S office' at Ballina hospital, meaning that volunteers were carrying personal liability if an accident occurred.
"Despite many accidents, no claims were made on the committee," Mr Young said.
Then the committee applied to the department for funding to help with the costs of the refurbishment of 62 Crane Street, but without success.
It was the failure of the Meals on Wheels State funding body to cough up with cash that led Mr Young to take a shot at the department.
"Any surplus funds from the meal income at the end of the year have to be returned to DADHC plus an additional 10 per cent GST, which we did not receive as part of the meal charge," he said.
"These are the funds we have received from the frail-aged and disabled citizens of Ballina Shire for the actual cost of their meals these people who are pensioners on a very limited income.
"On the other hand, if the meal income account is in deficit at the end of the year, the State Government will not recognise that debt which has to be found by the local management committee by additional costs to consumers.
"Yet the State Government demands the refund of the surplus fees I ask you: Do you think this is a fair go?
"This is a reverse Robin Hood policy, taking from the poor to support the rich."
The money for the refit of the More than a Meal Centre was eventually supplied by the former Federal Government's Regional Partnerships grant program ($83,000), Ballina Shire Council ($50,000) and the Meals on Wheels management committee ($33,000).
Federal Member for Page Janelle Saffin officially opened the centre.
The refurbishments started last year, and meals were being delivered from the new headquarters this year.
Mr Young praised Ballina Shire Council for its support and thanked Ballina hospital for providing a home for the service for 40 years.
More than 400 volunteers have been involved with Ballina Meals on Wheels since it was established in 1967.
Tom and Sally O'Connell, from Ballina, have been volunteering for two years.
And they are impressed with the new headquarters which has made their work easier with its drive-through driveway and ramp access to the kitchen.
"It's a big improvement," Tom said.
If you would like to volunteer, phone the centre on 6686 2636.