A meeting is being organised to try and reinstate Meals on Wheels in Portlaoise.
The service, which had provided between 25 and 27 meals to elderly people in Portlaoise, has been out of operation since late June.
It is being acknowledged as a big loss for the county which has Meals on Wheels in Durrow, Portarlington and Mountmellick. The service is vital to many older people and helps them stay fed and feel secure in their own homes.
Meals on Wheels Network Development Officer at Irish Rural Link, Tracey Noone is well aware of the need for the service in Portlaoise.
She works with the national Meals on Wheels network under the umbrella of Irish Rural Link dealing with 260 providers across the country.
“A gap exists hugely in Portlaoise. We are fully aware of the position in Portlaoise,” she acknowledged.
Ms Noone said Rafters Cafe in Portlaoise Shopping Centre had provided the service on a completely voluntary basis with no funding whatsoever.
“They weren’t linked in with the HSE… they were running a cafe, they saw the need,” she explained.
Rafters Cafe was supplying hot meals to between 25 and 27 people in Portlaoise on a regular basis until the Cafe closed in January of this year.
“Hares Corner in Mountmellick were approached and they agreed to take over the service temporarily,” explained Ms Noone.
However, in June this year the temporary arrangement with Hare’s Corner ended as they were unable to continue providing the service beyond the end of June due to funding and business constraints.
“She was very, very heartbroken that she couldn’t continue the service,” Ms Noone explained.
“The HSE, ourselves, Laois County Council, we are all aware of the gap that exists in Portlaoise,” Ms Noone said. She said surrounding towns have their own service but are unable to cover Portlaoise.
She described the situation as “extremely frustrating” and said all of the relevant agencies were working hard to try and resolve the situation.
“We are trying to identify a way of bridging the gap in Portlaoise,” she said.
“It is a service that is vital and essential,” said Ms Noone.
She explained that for some of the service users the Meals on Wheels volunteers might be the only people they meet in a day so there was a social element. They also check in on people in rural areas.
Ms Noone said Laois County Council, the HSE and Meals on Wheels are due to hold a meeting in relation to Portlaoise in mid September. She said they would welcome a conversation with any groups or providers who may be willing to help re-establish the service.
Ms Noone explained that there are funding streams available for Meals on Wheels but they need to have volunteers and a provider onboard.
“If we can get a group together and we could look at the options then,” she said.
“All agencies and all organisations are doing their utmost best to resolve the situation,” said Ms Noone.
She said they are open to talking to any groups or possible providers who might be interested in providing the service.
Labour Councillor Marie Tuohy said she had been contacted in relation to the lack of the service.
“We would be hoping that we would get the volunteers that were initially involved back in,” she said.
She described the generosity displayed by the owners of Rafters Cafe as “amazing” and said she was hopeful another provider could be found.
Cllr Tuohy said the service was not just important in relation to nourishing those who are hungry.
“To have somebody at the door, a person’s day could revolve around that,” she said.
She expressed a hope that the service would resume soon in Portlaoise.