The Citymeals Blog

Food for Though
Citymeals recipient

One Year Later

This month marks a sad milestone, as we look back to last spring when the severity of Covid-19 became clear and Citymeals began its historic response nourishing older New Yorkers through the pandemic.

As an emergency responder, we knew Covid-19 would also be a food crisis for the city’s vulnerable elderly. In early February, our team began purchasing additional food and packing meal boxes. Our first delivery of emergency food went out on March 8, a week before senior centers closed and stay-at-home orders were put in place. Our delivery and warehouse staff became essential workers and began working overtime to ensure older New Yorkers had a lifeline of nourishing food.

Caption: Staff became essential workers at our Emergency Meal Distribution Center.
Staff became essential workers at our Emergency Meal Distribution Center.

The PBS NewsHour reported on our round-the-clock efforts when New York City was still the epicenter of the outbreak. And by the end of June, we’d delivered over 1.7 million meals – 112% more than the same period the previous year.

To protect our vulnerable meal recipients, we changed our delivery protocols, checking in from a safe distance, and our Friendly Visiting Program shifted from in-person visits to virtual connections. Nearly 10,000 volunteers set aside worries about their own health, to help nourish their homebound elderly neighbors since the start of the Covid-19 crisis.

Meal deliverer Andrew brings a meal to a Citymeals recipient in Brooklyn.
Andrew, a Citymeals deliverer, brings a meal to a recipient in Brooklyn. 

The older New Yorkers we serve have lived through wars, political upheaval and previous public health crises, but still they struggled to make sense of the pandemic. “I’ve absolutely never experienced anything like this before,” said 71-year-old Lawrence, who lives in Hell’s Kitchen. For most homebound recipients isolation was already their reality. They showed me the resilience that often comes with age. Lucille, who rarely gets out after enduring a hip replacement and two rounds of heart surgery, told me October: "I feel ok. But you know, I'm 93, not 25."

As always, the culinary community rallied to help us meet the increased demand for food among seniors. Chef Daniel Boulud, who supported Citymeals emergency response after Hurricane Sandy, mobilized his staff and began preparing 5,000 meals each week for Citymeals’ recipients – over 230,000 donated meals so far. “I know Citymeals is a lifeline for them,” explains Daniel. 

Chef Daniel Boulud, Citymeals Board Co-President, preparing meal for recipients.
Chef Daniel Boulud, Citymeals Board Co-President, preparing meal for recipients.

And now, as vaccines become available, Citymeals has been advocating for better access to shots for our meal delivery staff and New York City’s estimated 136,000 homebound seniors.

One year later, Citymeals has delivered more than 3 million weekend, holiday and emergency meals since the Covid-19 crisis began, serving 50,000 of our frail aged neighbors. And the need is not going away. The news these days is a little less worrisome and we are all feeling optimistic, but older New Yorkers still need us.

Food For Thought