20 July 2022

Meals on Wheels SA CEO Sharyn Broer
Meals on Wheels SA CEO Sharyn Broer

Sharyn Broer

CEO, Meals on Wheels
Bachelor of Applied Science in Occupational Therapy

Leading a team to safely deliver 4500 three course meals to the community each day during the height of a pandemic sounds like a stressful job, but Meals on Wheels SA Chief Executive Officer Sharyn Broer thrived on the challenge.

The organisation was in the middle of moving to a new headquarters when COVID-19 struck, and Sharyn was forced to adapt every aspect of its service overnight to maintain the vital support services it provides.

With half of the organisation’s then 7000 volunteers aged over 70, some made the decision to stay home to protect their health. At the same time, there was an increased demand for meal delivery services.

Sharyn, a UniSA alumna, lived by the mantra “everyone gets fed, no one gets sick, and we don’t go broke’. She led the organisation to switch from delivering freshly prepared meals daily to delivering frozen meals less frequently, so they could continue operating with fewer volunteers.

The move to a new premises and the change in the way meals were prepared created some food safety risks, so Sharyn formed an innovative partnership with the Adelaide Convention Centre. The Convention Centre kitchens were equipped to safely prepare large quantities of frozen meals, and the chefs were available due to the sudden restrictions on large conferences and events.

Within three weeks 3000 new volunteers had responded to an emergency call for help, and Sharyn’s team of dedicated staff ensured that meals were distributed to those in need. Another opportune partnership with Foodbank helped with distribution, and Sharyn says even local councils were pitching in and redeploying library or traffic staff to help.

Sharyn took this all in her stride. “I loved the challenge of solving problems every day,” she says.

Sharyn delivering meals with a volunteer
Sharyn delivering meals with a volunteer

This spirit of community service has driven Sharyn throughout her studies and career. She was among the first cohort to graduate with a degree from the newly formed University of South Australia in 1991.

Sharyn loved the time she spent studying Occupational Therapy at the historic City East campus and says it was exciting to be part of the newly minted University.

The practical nature of the program and the interesting career options are what attracted her to Occupational Therapy, as well as the knowledgeable academic staff with real world experience. “You knew what job you’d be doing at the end, and you knew you’d be equipped and job ready,” she says.

After graduating Sharyn spent the first 10 years of her career as a clinician, getting her initial break in the public health system. She had lined up her first job while doing her final year placement.

She then moved into leadership positions in the South Australian Government. She was ready for a new challenge when the role at Meals on Wheels SA became available, and her values aligned with those of the the organisation. “I have always been driven to help people live as well as they could,” she says.

Sharyn is hands on with deliveries
Sharyn is hands on with deliveries

With the rise of ready-made meals lining the supermarket shelves and the option to order from a range of home delivery meal services, Meals on Wheels has faced some competition.

However, it is the commitment to healthy meals designed specifically to meet the nutritional needs of people aged over 70, the affordability, and the social connection that sets Meals on Wheels apart.

“Our staff and volunteers follow up on dozens of people every day who didn’t answer the door,” Sharyn says. This safe and well check is the “secret ingredient” to the service they provide.

More than just a food delivery service, the relationships the volunteers develop with the clients provided a lifeline during the pandemic when so many people were isolated in their homes.

Helping people live independently and achieve their goals has motivated Sharyn in all her roles – as a new graduate working on the hospital wards, making community visits, finding solutions to help people in their homes, influencing policy, or leading a large organisation through change.

Sharyn credits the critical thinking and analytical skills she learnt at UniSA to helping her get to where she is today. She was voted one of the Top 25 Not-for-Profit Leaders in the Pro Bono Australia Impact 25 awards in 2019, and has twice been a finalist in the Telstra Business Women’s Awards.

Despite these accolades, Sharyn says doing meal deliveries and helping people stay independent are the most rewarding aspects of her career.

Back to story index


Other articles you may be interested in