Volunteer delivers 34 years of caring

By Lawrence Gullery

For one hour a week, for the past 34 years, Hastings woman Pat Berry has been part of the national Red Cross volunteer army which has delivered thousands of hot meals to the doorsteps of people who need them the most.

The Meals On Wheels programme is the organisation's longest standing and most recognised community initiative, allowing many elderly and disabled people to remain independent and assisting others recovering from illness or hospital treatment.

Mrs Berry will be among other long-serving volunteers of the Hastings branch of Red Cross which will celebrate its 80th birthday at a special function in Hastings today.

The 77-year-old grandmother first joined the Junior Red Cross movement when she was at primary school shortly after World War II.

She had a teacher who was involved and who encouraged young people to become volunteers.

"I think I would have been about 12 or 13 then and it was a big thing in those days to be involved in Red Cross."

It was in the late 1970s when a relative reintroduced Mrs Berry to the Red Cross, this time to help with its Meals On Wheels programme.

"I was looking after my grandson back then so I had some time available to help out.

"My late mother used to come out with me delivering the meals as well as my children, my great-grand children, and now my great-great grandchildren. My cousin has also been coming out with me for about 20 years."

Mrs Berry said she enjoyed meeting the people on her round each week and had come to know some of them very well.

"You get fond of the people you meet and they are so happy to see you each week.

"They've enjoyed meeting my children over the years as well.

"Sometimes the names drop off your list and you wonder what has happened to them. They may have gone to a rest home or else in the paper you read, sadly, that they have died."

Mrs Berry said she understood she was one of the longer serving volunteers in the programme for Hastings, which made her feel "a little bit old".

"We definitely need more volunteers all the time to help out. What I say to people is that it's only an hour out of their time a week, which is nothing.

"All it involves is collecting the meals at the hospital and delivering them to people, and taking the plates back again. How hard is that?"

Mrs Berry thought the Red Cross was just as important now as it was to people who were recovering from the impact of the war in the 1950s.

"I think they do a great job and I always keep up to date with what the Red Cross is doing around the country."

This week's 80th birthday celebration will be a chance to meet other volunteers working on the Meals On Wheels programme, and people volunteering their time in other Red Cross initiatives.

"I know a lady who is nearly 90 years old and she is still delivering meals for Red Cross so I hope I can still do it when I am her age," she said.

The 80th anniversary luncheon will be held at the Hastings RSA today from 1pm.

Hastings Red Cross

  • The branch was formed in 1932 in response to the impact of the 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake.

  • It raised funds, collected food and clothing for victims of World War II.

  • The branch continued to send aid to Europe for many years after the war.

  • Meals on Wheels programme started in the 1960s and last year it delivered 42,000 meals.

  • Over a million meals have been delivered in Hastings to date.

  • The branch's civil defence role evolved in response to flooding during the 1970s.

  • It currently has 130 volunteers.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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