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Admiring a Centenarian
By Beth Shapiro, Executive Director
May 10, 2019
We all have an incredible woman in our lives, don’t we? Someone who teaches us profound lessons, cares for us in our darkest moments and loves unconditionally.
I was fortunate to grow up surrounded by amazing women, including my grandmothers, aunts — and my mom. Fiercely brilliant, from an early age she taught me to never give up on what I believe, no matter how difficult it may seem.
As Mother’s Day approaches, my thoughts turn to the more than 18,000 frail aged New Yorkers that Citymeals nourishes every year. Sixty-six percent of our meal recipients are women. They spent decades of their lives raising families and nurturing others. But many have now outlived their spouses, friends and often their own children. And will have nobody to spend this special day with.
Just this past Thanksgiving, I had the chance to meet an amazing mother – 101-year-old Josephine. I delivered a meal to the Harlem apartment she has called home for over four decades and where she raised her family.
Born before Prohibition, Josephine grew up in rural Florida. Just seven years old, her mother died suddenly and she was taken in by her grandmother, who instilled in Josephine a tireless work ethic.
Still a child herself, Josephine took jobs caring for the children of local families. At 15, she secured a job as a live-in nanny for a wealthy family in Yonkers and made her way to New York City. Josephine eventually settled in Harlem while continuing to work as a nanny. Even in her thirties, children cheered “hi granny!” while hugging her legs affectionately.
Close friends for nearly a decade, Josephine married a man named Henry and the couple adopted a baby girl. For Josephine, who had spent so many years taking care of others’ children, it was a joy to have a child of her own to love and nurture. “I am so happy I have that child!” She still gushes about her daughter, who is now an aging grandmother herself.
Josephine lost Henry to colon cancer six years ago. Her daughter offers the help she can, but is unable to look after her mother the way she’d like. “She has to pull her own wagon now,” Josephine told me. Like more than half our meal recipients Josephine lives alone, but even as a centenarian she treasures her independence.
And with her isolation, Josephine must confront the hard realities of aging: failing eyesight, knees that never stop aching and expensive medications which have drained her already meager savings. With her wheeling walker in disrepair and no money for an electric scooter, Josephine is trapped in her home.
As I spend Mother’s Day with my husband and children this Sunday, I’ll be thinking of Josephine. I feel comforted knowing that Citymeals will be giving her that regular knock on the door, along with a nutritious meal, that allows her to stay in the home that has held so many memories over the years.