Community mindedGriffith University nutrition and dietetics students have made a real difference to the lives of seniors and others who needed assistance during COVID-19.

Not-for-profit organisation Meals on Wheels, which makes and delivers affordable meals, had trouble recruiting volunteers during the pandemic, because most volunteers fall into the most vulnerable group — those aged 60 and older.

Third-year Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics student Julie Black first volunteered at Meals On Wheels Logan to gain compulsory hours for one of her courses, but decided to go back after the branch uttered a desperate plea for volunteers.

Students volunteering at Meals On Wheels Logan.

“I love volunteering and this is a way that I can help others by using my skills in the kitchen,” she said.

“It is great to be able to help out the community at this time when so many people are needing to isolate, which means organisation are also struggling to find volunteers to help.”

The students have prepared meals, doing everything from chopping vegetables and cooking stews, stir fries and soups, to making delectable desserts like cake, custard, cheesecake and an Aussie favourite — pavlova.

Claire Chapman, also in her third year, enjoyed getting to cook in the industrial kitchen.

“I felt as a young and healthy member of the community that I should step up and fill in for those more vulnerable volunteers that have been advised to say safe at home,” Claire said.

A student volunteer.

“It is a great experience — and they have all the fun toys to play with like a combi oven and a blast chiller.”

It’s not all fun and games, with general kitchen chores like washing and drying dishes part of the drill, but Julie did not mind, and said could see herself continuing to donate her time in the future.

“I have enjoyed it so much that I have continued to go and now have a good rapport with the staff and other volunteers,” Julie said.

“I try to go at least once a fortnight, but if I have time I’ll go weekly.”

Simulation and Work Integrated Learning Convenor Marie-Claire O’Shea said the response with the number of students stepping up to volunteer was “overwhelming”.

“We are so proud of our wonderful students having no hesitations about coming to the aid of our community in what has been a trying time for everyone,” Marie-Claire said.

A student making a savoury dish.

The Nutrition and Dietetics lecturer said volunteering had come full circle, with members of the community also donating their time to students.

“Due to COVID-19, some of our students had their practical hospital clinical placement cut short and these students still needed to demonstrate to the university that they can perform the skills required by a dietitian,” Marie-Claire said.

“So we reached out to our community, looking for volunteer patients — people willing to talk to a student about their medical history, social situations and what they eat to assist students to develop communication and clinical skills.

“We were inundated within 48 hours, and it was amazing to see staff, their friends and family, and members of the community both local and interstate, step up to help.”