A Long and Proud History of Serving in East York

Helping people with home-delivered meals is as old as neighbours. During times of illness, bereavement, and emergency, friends have brought food and companionship. But in our “modern” world many people lack these “good neighbours”. Before the organization of Meals on Wheels, elderly people, often against their will, had to seek haven in homes for the aged simply because they could not cook regular meals for themselves. Others ended up in hospital, largely due to malnutrition. Patients had to stay longer in hospitals often because they were not well enough to cook their own meals and had no one at home to help them. This caused great strain on many institutions, caused great unhappiness and misery to thousands of people.

In England, in the 1930s the need for an organized service was recognized and Meals on Wheels was born. At first it was called “The Invalid Kitchen of London”. Meals were delivered in baby carriages and on bicycles, and wrapped in blankets to keep them warm. World War II brought a huge increase in need, and bombing victims were often served by Meals on Wheels. Gradually, the service became a well-known part of the social service system in most parts of Great Britain.

Reports of the success of the service began to reach Canada after the war, but it was not until the mid 1960s that the Brantford Red Cross started the first program. Meals were cooked in a church basement and delivered by volunteers.

In early 1965, with support from the Laidlaw Foundation, St. Christopher House started the first program in Toronto. Later that year, St. Luke’s United Church started a unit. Co-ordinated Services to the Jewish Elderly (now known as Circle of Care), inaugurated its Kosher Meals on Wheels service in 1966.

Leaside United Church

Leaside United Church

In the fall of 1968, two Leaside United Church women, Edna Beange and Luella Munro, felt there was a need for the service in the Borough of East York due in part to the high concentration of seniors, second highest in all of Canada. Using Leaside United Church as a base of operations, they began a campaign for volunteers, money, and equipment. Five area churches, Bethel Baptist, Leaside United, Leaside Presbyterian, Manor Road United, & Northlea United provided the needed financial and volunteer support from the outset.Donations to support the project were sought throughout the community. They came from individuals, service clubs and churches, including Leaside-East York University Women’s Club, Leaside Chapter IODE, the United Church Women of Northlea United Church, the Gyro Club of Leaside, the Leaside Business and Professional Women’s Club and the Leaside Lions Club. Government funding was not forthcoming until 1972. Sunnybrook Hospital cooperated in the project by providing meals at cost. The area served included East York as well as the area between Bayview Avenue and Mount Pleasant.

The first Meals on Wheels delivery took place March 10, 1969. Five volunteers packed and delivered meals to four clients. Clients were asked to pay 75c per meal. Delivery was initially limited to Monday, Wednesday and Friday. In 1972, the fledging program served 6,900 meals delivered over Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. By 1974 numbers had grown sufficiently – 150 meals per week – that office space, paid staff and individually plated meals were needed. Sunnybrook kindly offered space and began to plate food into individual aluminum containers. One paid staff person was hired, but volunteers continued to be the backbone of the organization. From 1969 to 1975 the service covered all of East York and from Bayview Ave. to Mt. Pleasant Avenue. In 1975 True Davidson Meals on Wheels began to provide the service in the eastern part of the Borough, east from Coxwell Avenue.

In 1979, the Agency expanded its services to include Congregate Dining, otherwise known as “Wheels to Meals” or “Diners’ Club”. This program combines the nutritional aspect of Meals on Wheels with an opportunity to socialize and reduce isolation. Transportation is provided by volunteers. We began with one Diners’ Club per month, at Leaside United Church, and over the years have added a number of other sites, spread across the former Borough of East York.

In the late 1970′s the Agency established Telephone Reassurance Program. Initially this service was intended to provide a security check for Meals on Wheels clients on non-delivery days but has since expanded to serve all seniors and disabled persons in the former Borough of East York. Service is provided by volunteers.

In January 1984 Meals on Wheels service was expanded to six days a week, Sunday through Friday. The increased need for volunteers was critical as was re-organization within the office. Until 1988 we were the only agency providing service six days a week. In the 1990’s we added frozen meals to our delivery options.

The agency was incorporated as a not-for-profit charitable corporation in 1986.

Since its establishment, East York Meals on Wheels has continuously sustained a high level of quality service to the residents of East York. We are committed to meeting the needs of this community now and into the future.

These accomplishments are made possible through the combined efforts of a dedicated volunteer Board of Directors, a professional staff and a small army of committed volunteers. Together they make East York Meals on Wheels an agency providing service of which we can all be proud!