A new online map which will allow people to find their nearest Meals on Wheels service has gone live.

The interactive map is part of the new mealsonwheelsnetwork.ie website developed by Irish Rural Link. It also contains information on other local services which could be of use to people living alone or vulnerable people.

Over 250 providers of Meals on Wheels were identified by Irish Rural Link during their needs assessment process while they developed the new map and website.

The facility is part-funded by the HSE, while also relying on fundraising and voluntary time given by hundreds of people around the country, and essentially involves hot meals being home-delivered to elderly or vulnerable people living alone, on a regular basis.

"The interactive map is the first of its kind in Ireland for Meals on Wheels," Irish Rural Link's policy and communications officer Louise Lennon said.

Minister of State Mary Butler at the launch of the new interactive map, alongside secretary of the Dr Martin Day Centre in Portlaw and former Fine Gael TD Paudie Coffey

"People can go onto the map and see if there's a service in their local area. It also allows us to identify gaps in services across the country. Meals on Wheels is a local service and is delivered by the community and voluntary sector.

"It's a vital service for a lot of people and does align with the Government objectives to deliver more healthcare services in the community and allow people to age at home."

Map via National Meals on Wheels Network

The online map was launched in Portlaw, Co Waterford, where the meal delivery service has been running for a number of years and has proved invaluable, as it did in many areas, during the initial stages of the pandemic.

"The centre was closed but we kept delivering the meals," said Alice Kiersey of the Dr Martin Day Centre, where the Portlaw service is based.

"Some days we had about 50 meals to deliver to. So it was hugely important to people because they got to meet somebody. We asked them how they were doing, if they needed some shopping, we would pick that up for them. If they needed something picked up in a chemist, we would make sure they had everything. And also the chat, which is hugely important to someone who won't see anybody all day."

Meals on Wheels user Bridget McGrath with Alice Kiersey of the Dr Martin Day Centre

Minister of State with responsibility for older people, Mary Butler launched the new website, saying it is "such an important service", especially for people who live in rural isolation.

"For people who might not see anybody from one end of the day to the next, Meals on Wheels is so much more than a nutritious meal being delivered to your home," she said.

"It’s just the fact that people know that there will be someone calling; it’s the back-up of the daycare centres; and it’s just the fact that you know there’s somebody there."

She paid tribute to the volunteers who help to run the service, from cooking the food to delivering meals to homes.

"These services would not be possible without the volunteers."

One of those who avail of the Portlaw delivery, Bridget McGrath, described it as a "fantastic" service.

"I find it great, because I live on my own," she said.

"It’s great to have it delivered."

She pointed out that, during lockdown when the day centre was closed, meals were still delivered to homes.

"You’d know they were coming, and the times, so there was never a problem with it."

She said that, between the home delivery service and the day centre itself, "there’s no need for anybody to be alone".