According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, a staggering 93 per cent of mums are consistently feeling rushed or pressed for time. And if you are one of the many who have just arrived home from work after a long hard day, the last thing you probably feel like doing is making a meal for your family. It’s worse if you’re not in a situation where your partner or someone else can help out, as you’ll find yourself torn between a rock and a hard place: do you take the easy way out and bring home cheap but convenient fast food or do you put in the extra effort—and time—of cooking a nutritious dinner?

Enter Rachel Golding, a Sydney-based mum who had a friend struggling to find time to cook healthy meals for her family. Knowing that Rachel had a talent and passion for cooking, the friend asked Rachel whether she could cook her some dinners that the family could heat up easily at home. Rachel could and did.

Word got out and other friends also expressed an interest in purchasing meals from Rachel for their families. It then got to the stage where Rachel was receiving emails from people she didn’t even know, asking if she could cook for them too!

“We care about what we feed ourselves and our families, but some days, there are just too many balls in the air to cook a proper dinner as well,” says Rachel. “Having ready-to-go dinners certainly makes my week easier!” Clearly there was a need out there. The sparks for a business idea began to grow.

But Rachel didn’t want to just be another ordinary food delivery service. As a “recovering academic” who began life as an occupational therapist and worked for many years in research on family and disabilities, she had regularly met with and interviewed a number of women with intellectual disabilities who had become mothers. These women were under enormous pressure from those around them and weren’t always given the opportunity to demonstrate they could properly care for their children.

Rachel chose to do her PhD on the experiences of these women and she paid special attention to investigating the experiences of those whose children had been removed by statutory child protection authorities. She came to realise that there was significant prejudice against these women.

“Asking for help was often seen as an admission of not being able to cope and might result in their child being removed,” explains Rachel. “But who, as a mother, hasn’t needed help—daily!—with caring for their children?”

The same prejudice was often reported by mothers with mental illness or mothers of children with disabilities.

“All of these women are more likely to experience poverty, poor health and greater rates of stress, depression and anxiety,” says Rachel. And so, she wanted her business to be able to support these women in a practical but compassionate way.

Rachel reminds me that we often hear inspiring stories about communities and families coming together after facing some sort of crisis. When we find out someone has a short time to live or that they’ve been in a life-threatening accident, we rally around them with support. This support can have incredibly positive effects on the person and their family and helps them cope better. Yet we seldom extend the same grace and support towards those made vulnerable by disabilities.

“Our society, on the whole, is not well set up for people with disabilities,” says Rachel. “In fact, people with disabilities are often further ‘disabled’ by the communities they live in. As a mum of three young children and a business owner, I know how hard it can be to keep the balls in the air—I drop them pretty often! And as a woman who has spent countless hours listening to women living with disabilities tell me about their daily lives, I know that in many ways I’ve got it easy.

“No-one ever questioned my decision to have children. No-one treated my pregnancies as a mistake never to be repeated. No-one asked how on earth I was going to manage, although I ask myself that a lot! No-one told me I’d be better off if my child had died at birth, that it was a tragedy that they lived, that they’d be better off in an institution or that they should be given to someone else to look after.”

The voices of women made vulnerable by disabilities are seldom heard during the work- and family-life balance conversation. These women may either have a disability themselves or be caring for someone with a disability. They face the same responsibilities as other mums but generally with access to fewer resources while dealing with much bigger challenges.

And so, Rachel’s business, Dinner on the Table, makes a point of recognising that women living with disabilities are dealing with the same struggles of everyday life but with greater challenges. More than that, it aims to support every member of households made vulnerable with disabilities, not just the individual.

“One in six Australians identifies themselves as having a disability. Five in six don’t. One hundred per cent of both groups eat dinner every single day,” says Rachel. “It seemed to me practical support for one of the big tasks of daily life might just make a big difference to people’s lives.”

Dinner on the Table employs three staff in the kitchen, all of whom have personal experience of disabilities. They partner with a local disability service and a number of their clients volunteer in the kitchen each week, helping to prepare, cook and package meals. The business also works with a local school for children and young people with significant disabilities. The students help collect the kitchen’s vegetable scraps for their compost bins. The compost feeds their gardens and chickens, and in turn, they supply Dinner on the Table with herbs and eggs. The arrangement works well. Since January 2014, Rachel’s business has grown exponentially.

“We deliver dinners across Sydney. We cook from scratch, use locally-grown produce and don’t use any nasties!” says Rachel. “We want our customers to be confident that what they’re feeding their families is real food, prepared just like they would. Our customers order via our website from our weekly changing menu and dinners are delivered to either their home or workplace. They can be ordered to feed a large or small family and require minimal preparation at home.”

Dinner on the Table also gifts meals to families living with disabilities. “Each week, we support families living with disabilities. They order from the same menu and have their dinners delivered just like our paying customers,” says Rachel.

“Once we start supporting a family living with disabilities, we ask them to order enough food every week to feed their household twice.” The families use a unique code at the checkout that turns their balance into zero.

“The only people who know [these families] aren’t paying for their dinners are them and us: everything else about the way they use our service looks exactly the same as for our paying customers,” says Rachel. It’s another great example of what sets Rachel’s business aside from others: she treats all customers with equal respect and attention. At this point, more than 1000 meals have already been gifted to families living with disabilities, and there are still more to come.

“Every time you order from our service, we provide meals at no cost to families made vulnerable by disabilities,” says Rachel. “When buying with Dinner on the Table, you will not only change your daily life, you’ll change someone else’s.”

Last year, Rachel won the Women’s Business School Award at the 2017 AusMumpreneur Awards in Sydney. The award acknowledged Rachel as an outstanding Women’s Business School student who had achieved phenomenal results in all aspects of business through Dinner on the Table. It also noted that Rachel’s philanthropic involvement with the community set her apart—her business wasn’t just a business but a social enterprise passionate about giving back.        

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