Revealed: Our elderly – alone and forgotten

Revealed: Our elderly – alone and forgotten

Leading charity Jewish Care calls on community to tackle volunteer shortage as it warns of shocking isolation levels

Stephen is the Jewish News' Foreign Editor

A leading communal charity this week warned that a severe shortage of volunteers is “failing” elderly and lonely Jewish people, in an urgent call for help over Rosh Hashanah .

News that there are not enough volunteers to meet demand will shock the community, which prides itself on its charitable provision, as Jewish Care warned this week that “we risk letting down the most vulnerable”.

Charity bosses said an ageing population meant that there was an ever-increasing need for befriending and related services, such as providing kosher food, but the shortage has left staff struggling to plug the gaps.

Barnet Council stopped running a kosher meals on wheels service last year, with the charity stepping in to deliver kosher meals in Edgware, Stanmore, Finchley, Hendon and Golders Green. But Jewish Care said this week that “demand for the service is greater than can be met by the current volunteer team”.

Requests for meals from members of the community in Southgate and Bushey also remain unmet due to the lack of volunteers.

Volunteers also act as companions, with some service users not seeing anyone for days on end. “From Redbridge to Westminster, Brent and Barnet, there are members of the community asking for company,” said a charity spokeswoman.

Among those on the waiting list for volunteer befrienders is a former journalist and author living in central London, who has failing eyesight and who is looking for someone with interests in history, culture and journalism.

Another is a housebound 100-year-old woman with no family in the UK, who would like company from a Hebrew speaker or poetry lover, while a visually-impaired man in Barnet has been waiting for computer help since November.

Jewish Care chief executive Simon Morris.   Photo credit: Blake Ezra
Jewish Care chief executive Simon Morris. Photo credit: Blake Ezra

“I’m incredibly proud to be part of a community that supports one another, but I’m also increasingly conscious of how much more we can do,” said Jewish Care chief executive Simon Morris.

“With an ageing population, the demand for support from across the community is at an all-time high and I suspect only set to grow. We have to pull together as a community to respond and find times in our busy diaries for those who need us.”

Most of Jewish Care’s meals on wheels volunteers in Redbridge are over the age of 70, and many well into their 80s. The spokeswoman said: “Recent attempts to recruit younger volunteers haven’t been successful and with a shrinking pool of volunteers, those who are volunteering have seen an increase in the deliveries they are having to make each day.”

This week's front page
This week’s front page

With up to 18 deliveries a day, the charity’s volunteers now have less time to check in or chat with clients, and demand is continuing to grow, with up to 150 meals being delivered a day.

“There are some areas such as Buckhurst Hill where there is demand but Jewish Care simply can’t provide the service due to a lack of volunteers willing or able to deliver there,” she said.

She said: “Staff members are often left to deliver meals due to a shortage of volunteers. They are particularly struggling for Friday drivers who deliver much-loved Friday night dinners to older and vulnerable people in the community.”

Marsha Gladstone, who set up a children’s volunteering organisation, the Yoni Jesner Foundation in memory of her son, said the shortage of volunteers was “a terrible indictment of our Jewish community, if we’re not doing enough”.

She said: “If our charities don’t have enough volunteers, somebody needs to stand up and shout, and say ‘you’re letting down our charities. They can’t run without volunteers.”

  • Readers interested in finding out more about becoming a volunteer befriender or meals on wheels driver should email or call 020 8922 2405.
  • If you are lonely and would like a befriender from the community
    or looking for meals on wheels  
    please call Jewish Care’s helpline on 020 8922 2222.

Editorial comment: Voice of the Jewish News: Let’s do as Yoni did 

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