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Neighbors Helping Neighbors
By Vivienne O’Neill, Director of Volunteer Programs
June 18, 2020
So much has changed in a short period of time, the world around us, our neighborhoods, meeting spaces, the places we work and call home have changed dramatically. Life in the midst of Covid-19 has ignited fear, frustration and anxiety all around. But now, more than ever, we must focus all of our energy on defeating this pandemic and the challenges associated with it. Nothing is more important than ensuring the health and safety of our seniors, volunteers and the community.
Citymeals’ volunteer program went into high gear in mid-March, when senior centers closed and stay-at-home orders were put in place. We'd been planning an emergency response for weeks to cope with Coronavirus, and then it was time to get food out – and quickly – to nervous New Yorkers across the city. As always, we found caring friends, both new and old, ready and willing to help us nourish their older neighbors.
Since the start of Covid-19, over 4,000 volunteers have given nearly 18,000 hours of time to pack and deliver meals to seniors in need. With their help, home-delivered meals have continued and we have delivered 490,000 emergency meals for vulnerable seniors.
Betsy Jelisavcic and her sons Laszlo, Elijah and Lenny have been Citymeals volunteers since 2018, delivering meals to the homebound elderly in their neighborhood.
Betsy was inspired to give back by her elderly Aunt Edie, who had been a Citymeals recipient and always loved the meals and friendly meal deliverers. Since the start of the Coronavirus crisis, Betsy and her sons have donned their masks and dedicated two mornings a week to packing and delivering meals for their frail aged neighbors. In the process, Betsy says the boys have learned about working as a team, navigating the city and socializing in different communities.
Our Friendly Visiting program, which provides companionship for isolated meal recipients, shifted from in-person visits to virtual connections in mid-March to keep vulnerable seniors safe. Bronx residents Heava and her daughter Tiffany have been Citymeals volunteers for six years and have become like family to Ms. Ross, an 84-year-old meal recipient, who lives near them in Coop-City.
Now, the women connect over the phone daily. Regular calls enable Heava and Tiffany to check in on Ms. Ross, chat and reassure her that she’s not forgotten during this difficult time. See them in action on PBS' NewsHour.
Three times a week, Kevin King drives from his home in Park Slope to Manhattan to pick up 1,000 meals from several of the city’s most famous restaurants that are now preparing food for their vulnerable older neighbors. He loads these meals, made possible through our partnership with ReThink, into his mini-van and transports them to meal centers across the city, where they are then delivered to older New Yorkers in need. Kevin was inspired to get involved by his mother, who now lives with late stage dementia. A retired social worker, she was involved with a meals on wheels program in North Carolina.
As an organization, we are hopeful that sometime during the coming weeks and months, we will look at this difficult chapter in the “rearview mirror” and when we do, it will be with enormous pride in how we individually and collectively, responded. In these unprecedented times, we could not ensure an uninterrupted lifeline of meals for older New Yorkers without the thousands of caring individuals giving their time. Together, we will get through this. If you’d like to get involved, email email@example.com.