MealMakers: dishing out food and friendship

If statistics are anything to go by, we don’t know our neighbours like we used to. In fact, around 50% of Britons have reported not knowing their neighbours’ first names.

Couple this with the news that two-fifths of older people say their TV is their main source of company and it’s clear that local communities are not as close as they once were.

But in many areas across Scotland, a group called MealMakers are reviving the sense of community through a simple but significant activity: “neighbours sharing food with neighbours”.

In a bid to tackle both food poverty and loneliness in elderly citizens, MealMakers have devised an initiative for connecting individuals through home cooking. Getting involved is easy; volunteer chefs register their interest online, before the team match them with an older neighbour who would appreciate a home-cooked meal.

Stuart Mills, development officer at MealMakers, explains the motivations behind the team hoping to bring back some community spirit: “We wanted to find a way where if people didn’t necessarily know an older neighbour in their local area, they would still have the opportunity to get to know them and be able to help out in that kind of way.”

A subsidary of the award-winning charity Foodtrain, the scheme started in Dundee in 2014, and has since been rolled out across Edinburgh, Stirling, Renfrewshire, Perth and Kinross, West Lothian and Glasgow, where MealMakers HQ is based. There’s no slowing them down; a new branch is planned for the Scottish Borders, suggesting that there’s more need for the compassionate enterprise than ever before.

Stuart highlights how the scheme can benefit older people both physically and emotionally: “There might be an older person who may not have had children or does have children who have moved away or might not have someone there for them in their local community. It’s a real nice opportunity for them to get to meet someone, have conversation, companionship and access to nice, fresh food.”

While only less than three years into the venture, the MealMakers initiative has been successful in creating new bonds between community members through genuinely hearty food. Through the scheme, 379 meal-share pairings have been made through the project, 5,158 meals have been shared, and the total time of each visit combined adds up to 4,943 hours. The team gather their stats at the end of the month, so these impressive figures are accurate as of April 1.

One of these pairings met at the beginning of 2015 in Dundee, and have since gone on to share an impressive 100 meals together.

Stuart describes the recipient’s situation before he was matched with his neighbour: “He was recently widowed and wasn’t coping very well. One of the big reasons for that was because he’d never had any cooking skills, his wife was the sole cook in their relationship and they didn’t have any children. He had been living off jam sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

Thanks to the pairing by MealMakers, this man doesn’t just have the pleasure of enjoying new foods; he has found a new companion in a time of strife, highlighting the exceptional impact the scheme can make in the lives of those who are in need of both.

If you’re a cook who fancies getting involved with MealMakers, it couldn’t be simpler. Just go here 

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