Featured Volunteers

Robyn & D'Artagnan Thomson

Jesse King spends a shift with Robyn Thomson and her son D’Artagnan who volunteer for Mobile Meals.

The traffic light turns orange. Robyn Thomson presses her foot down and the vehicle lurches forward. She almost instantly changes her mind and hits the brakes. Her Toyota Wish stops.

“Better not risk it,” she mutters. The light turns red.

She watches vehicles pass through dark sunglasses and she reaches for the volume button and twists it sharply.

“I’m walkin’ on sunshine, whoa, I’m walkin’ on sunshine, whoa. And don’t it feel good.”

“Finally,” Thomson says as the light goes green. “We’re actually late.” She presses her foot down.

Thomson, 44, volunteers for Mobile Meals in Hamilton. Every Wednesday she drives busily to the YWCA and picks up a load of meals that she delivers throughout the city.

There for every ride is her son D’Artagnan, 14, who she home-schools. She has made volunteering part of his curriculum.

“I do it for the caramels,” D’Artagnan laughs. He gets given a bag of them every week. “But I also like helping people,” he adds.

D’Artagnan and his sister Shania, 17, were born into Destiny Church and the family regularly attends. Thomson says growing up in the church has introduced them to all kinds of people and she thinks this has assisted them to work well in the community.

Born in Dargaville, Thomson moved to Auckland early in her life. Her Mum decided it wasn’t a good place to raise kids so moved them to Nelson. She and her partner Jason moved to Hamilton to find better job opportunities and now they run The Hair Family in Cambridge. While Jason is cutting hair, Thomson watches over staff, sets up displays, helps with marketing and does the banking.

“It’s probably a 45 hour job, but I’m only working 30 hours,” she says. Busy, always busy.

Today is Thomson’s day off, but she says that she always wanted to be a volunteer, so she’s happy to spend it doing Mobile Meals and you get the sense she always has to be doing something.

When they pull into Hamilton’s YWCA building, meals coordinator Paula Johnson has the food ready to go.

“Robyn’s a one off, special person,” Johnson says. “We have husbands and wives that go out, we have two sisters that go out, but I’ve never had a mother and son before and that’s wonderful. We couldn’t do our service if we didn’t have volunteers like them.”

D’Artagnan fills the car with plates and trays. Off goes the car and on goes the music.

“We built this city, we built this city on rock and roll.”

She pulls up outside a small, run-down house.

“Meatloaf and gravy, babe,” she says to her son.

D’Artagnan runs the meal to the front door and delivers it to an older woman. He’s quickly back in the car and they set off again.

Thomson says time management is important: “You can chat to them for a while, but you have to be conscious that you’ve got other people to drop meals off to. There’s one lady at the end of the line who has actually rung, we’ve ended up talking to a few of them for a while and she has rung to see where her lunch was.”

Down one street the mother and son part ways to deliver a meal each to clients that live close by.

After a couple more in and out deliveries, Thomson pulls up outside a tall, modern home on an immaculate yard. The front door opens slowly and out steps a lanky older man. He is dressed casually, wearing a polo shirt and corduroy pants.

He approaches the car smiling.

“Hello, I’m just waiting for the sun to come,” Tom Jones replies. Yes, Tom Jones.

“I don’t think it is, it’s got that ‘I’m just waiting to pour on you’ kind of feel,” Thomson replies and Tom laughs heartily.

“How is your gas lamp going,” she asks him.

They chat a bit, then he collects his meal, then they exchange goodbyes and Thomson heads off again.

“Tom is an ex engineer, he has cool toys. He fixes up motorbikes in his garage, which is absolutely immaculate,” she says.

“When you talk to him it makes you think oh my goodness, I need to go and live a life.”

Thomson and D’Artagnan were invited to Tom’s 90th birthday last year.

“I wish we had gone, I didn’t know he played the piano incredibly well,” she says.
“I think we were busy, I think we had something on that night,” D’Artagnan replies.
“Yeah and I was tired too,” says Thomson.
“You’re always tired.”

On the way to the last stop, Thomson recalls passing the house of one of her old clients recently. There was a for sale sign outside of it. Not long later the sign was gone.

“Hopefully that will mean she has just gone into a home. She was always doing something, knitting, she liked sport, cricket. I hate cricket. She was just really chatty and nice.”

Moments later she pulls up alongside a mass of overgrown shrubs. Further on from them is a tangle of weeds, leading back to gardens that haven’t been touched in forever. Knick knacks are strewn throughout the unkempt yard.

Thomson knocks on a paint-chipped door and waits. She tries to peer through a high up window.

Finally, a familiar face opens the door – the carer. It turns out the older woman inside has been in bed for a month after a fall, but her leg wound is now clearing up.

“She should be out and about in a couple of weeks.”

Robyn hands the meal over to the carer.

“Alright my dear, you have a great day and we will see you next week,” Thomson says.

Rain begins to pour on the way home. She slows to a stop at the back of a long line of traffic. Up ahead an orange light blinks on and off. To its left are more blinking lights. Red and blue.

“What’s this,” Thomson asks.

Traffic is at a standstill behind the accident.

“Are they even letting anyone go?” She turns and looks behind her.

Time passes without progress. She turns her head again and indicates.

“I don’t have time for this,” she says.

She accelerates and turns onto the other side of the road.

“It’s my day off and I’ve got shopping to do.”

To become a volunteer, or get more information, visit volunteeringwaikato.org.nz, or phone 07 839 3191.

Jesse King is a Wintec journalism student

PHOTO CREDIT: Angus Templeton

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