HOMEBOUND AND HUNGRY

Despite the promise brought about by the coronavirus vaccine, many New Yorkers are still facing a very uncertain and anxious winter. This is especially true for the city’s homebound seniors, who remain the most vulnerable to the virus. CityMeals On Wheels recognizes that many of the protocols put in place to protect them from the virus have put them at a greater risk of going hungry and they’d like to change that. The group’s Executive Director Beth Shapiro and their Senior Director of their volunteer programs and corporate engagement Vivienne O’Neill join us to discuss their harrowing work in this time of crisis.

For more information on CityMeals On Wheels, click here.

Aired on January 12, 2021.

 

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

I'M RAFAEL PI ROMAN.

YOU KNOW, DESPITE THE ARRIVAL OF THE CORONAVIRUS VACCINE, MANY NEW YORKERS ARE STILL FACING A VERY UNCERTAIN AND ANXIOUS WINTER.

THIS IS ESPECIALLY TRUE FOR THE CITY'S HOME-BOUND SENIORS WHO REMAIN THE MOST VULNERABLE TO THE VIRUS.

NOT ONLY THAT, BUT MANY OF THE PROTOCOLS PUT IN PLACE TO PROTECT THOSE FROM THE VIRUS PUT SOME OF THE SENIORS AT AN INCREASED RISK OF GOING HUNGRY.

JOINING US TO TALK ABOUT THE CHALLENGES OF SERVING OLDER AND POORER NEW YORKERS AT A TIME OF CRISES ARE BETH SHAPIRO, THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF CITY MEALS ON WHEELS, AND VIVIENNE O'NEILL, CITY MEALS SENIOR DIRECTOR OF VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS AND CORPORATE ENGAGEMENT.

THANK YOU BOTH FOR JOINING US TODAY FOR A VERY IMPORTANT TOPIC.

THANK YOU.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING US.

BETH, LET ME START WITH YOU.

YOU KNOW, I THINK IT IS SAFE TO SAY MOST NEW YORKERS HAVE HEARD ABOUT CITY MEALS ON WHEELS, AND MOST OF US KNOW THAT IT HAS SOMETHING TO DO WITH DELIVERING MEALS.

BUT BEYOND THAT, I THINK MANY OF US, AT LEAST, DON'T KNOW REALLY HOW YOU FUNCTION, WHERE YOU STARTED, ALL OF THAT STUFF.

I WONDER IF YOU COULD BRIEFLY GIVE US A HISTORY OF THE ORGANIZATION, WHAT YOUR MISSION IS AND HOW YOU ACCOMPLISH THAT MISSION ON A DAILY BASIS?

SURE.

I WOULD LOVE TO.

AGAIN, THANK YOU.

SO CITY MEALS ON WHEELS WAS FOUNDED NEARLY 40 YEARS AGO TO MAKE SURE HOME-BOUND ELDERLY NEW YORKERS HAD FOOD EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR.

OUR FOUNDERS HAD READ AN ARTICLE IN THE NEWSPAPER IN NOVEMBER OF 1981 WHERE OLDER NEW YORKERS WERE GOING FOUR DAYS WITHOUT FOOD BECAUSE THE ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN RIGHT IN ADVANCE OF THANKSGIVING, RIGHT WHEN THE CITY WAS CLOSED DOWN.

SO THE CITY FUNDS MEALS MONDAY THROUGH FRIDAY AS LONG AS THERE'S NO HOLIDAY, AND OUR FOUNDERS BELIEVED THAT PEOPLE NEED FOOD EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR, JUST LIKE YOU AND I DO.

SO THEY RALLIED FRIENDS IN THE RESTAURANT COMMUNITY WHERE THEY WORKED AND RAISED MONEY, CALLED THE CITY AND SAID, 'WE'LL DO THE NEXT HOLIDAY,' THINKING IT WAS A ONE-TIME THING, AND THAT WAS CHRISTMAS.

THEY DELIVERED 6,000 CHRISTMAS MEALS WITH $35,000 THAT THEY HAD RAISED.

SINCE THAT TIME, CITY MEALS HAS NOW DELIVERED OVER 63 MILLION MEALS TO OLDER NEW YORKERS TOO FRAIL TO SHOP OR COOK FOR THEMSELVES.

THEY'VE HAD ACTIVE, PRODUCTIVE LIVES AND ARE NOW JUST OUTLIVED THEIR ABILITY TO CARE FOR THEMSELVES, WHETHER IT IS PHYSICAL OR EMOTIONAL DISABILITIES.

YOU KNOW, THEY'RE TOO FRAIL TO WALK TO A MARKET AND CARRY FOOD HOME WITH THEM AND WE MAKE SURE THEY'RE GETTING A MEAL EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR, WEEKENDS, HOLIDAYS, AND PARTICULARLY TIMES OF EMERGENCY.

ALL RIGHT.

SO, VIVIENNE, THAT'S WHAT YOU HAVE BEEN DOING FOR FOUR DECADES NOW.

HERE COMES COVID, THE COVID PANDEMIC.

HOW HAS THAT IMPACTED OUR TRANSFORMED THE WAY YOU DO BUSINESS OR THE KIND OF BUSINESS YOU DO?

WELL, ONE OF THE THINGS THAT HAS OCCURRED WITH THIS PANDEMIC, WE HAD NEARLY 8,000 VOLUNTEERS WHO HAVE GIVEN US OVER 29,000 HOURS OF SERVICE TO MAKE SURE THAT OUR SENIORS, OUR FRAIL SENIORS ARE NOURISHED ON A DAILY BASIS AND ALSO CHECKING IN ON THEM.

THE PANDEMIC HAS CHANGED THE WHOLE LANDSCAPE OF WHAT WE DO AT CITY MEALS ON WHEELS, AND WE HAD TO PIVOT ON THE DROP OF A DIME TO MAKE SURE THAT OUR SENIORS ARE TAKEN CARE OF.

AND WE DID THIS BY FOLLOWING ALL OF THE PROTOCOLS THAT WERE GIVEN TO US, MAKING SURE THAT VOLUNTEERS HAVE MASKS AND GLOVES, TEMPERATURES ARE BEING CHECKED, AND WHEN THEY GO TO MAKE THOSE DELIVERIES, WHICH ARE CRITICAL DURING THESE TIMES, TO HAVE THAT FACE-TO-FACE DELIVERY, THAT THEY KNOW THEY HAVE TO STAND BACK AT LEAST SIX FEET AND TO MAKE SURE THAT THE SENIOR IS HOME TO RECEIVE THE MEAL AND CHECKING IN ON THEM AND LETTING US KNOW IF THERE IS ANYTHING, ANY CHANGES IN THEIR ENVIRONMENT SO THAT WE CAN REACT TO IT IMMEDIATELY.

SO, BETH, I READ RECENTLY THAT ONE OF THE THINGS THAT HAS CHANGED SINCE COVID HIT US IS THAT MANY MORE SENIORS ARE GOING TO YOUR ORGANIZATION FOR FOOD.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT COVID THAT IS RESULTING IN MORE SENIORS NEEDING YOUR SERVICE?

YEAH, I MEAN I THINK WE'RE ALL FEELING THE EFFECTS OF ISOLATION IN A WAY THAT WE NEVER HAVE, AND WE'RE DEALING WITH OLDER NEW YORKERS WHO ARE VULNERABLE.

PRIOR TO COVID, YOU KNOW, THEY WERE HOME BOUND, AND NOW WE ARE SEEING OLDER NEW YORKERS WHO SHOULDN'T BE GOING OUT TO THE GROCERY EVEN WITH A MASK OR GLOVES ON.

THEY RUN THE RISK OF GETTING EXTREMELY ILL FROM THE VIRUS SHOULD THEY GET IT, SO WE HAVE SEEN OUR ROLLS INCREASE.

I AM VERY PROUD TO SAY WE HAVE NOT MISSED A SINGLE DELIVERY.

IN FACT, OUR NUMBERS HAVE GROWN SUBSTANTIALLY.

WE'VE DELIVERED OVER 2 MILLION MEALS SINCE THE BEGINNING OF MARCH.

800,000 OF THOSE ARE EMERGENCY MEALS.

SO WE ARE FEEDING, OF COURSE, THOSE WE WERE ALREADY FEEDING.

WE'VE ADDED OVER 2,000 NEW RECIPIENTS TO OUR REGULAR DELIVERIES, AND WE FED OVER 40,000 OTHER OLDER NEW YORKERS WHO, AS YOU SAY, ARE INCREASING NUMBERS OF PEOPLE NEEDING FOOD.

SO, VIVIENNE, YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR VOLUNTEERS AND, AS I UNDERSTAND IT, CITY MEALS DEPENDS GREATLY ON VOLUNTEERS.

FIRST OF ALL, WHAT IS THE RATIO BETWEEN VOLUNTEERS AND PAID STAFF ON CITY MEALS?

SECONDLY, HOW HAS THE PANDEMIC AFFECTED THE RECRUITMENT OF VOLUNTEERS?

WELL, WE HAVE HUNDREDS OF STAFF OUT THERE WHO ARE DELIVERING MEALS, AND WITH THAT WE -- WITH THE THOUSANDS OF VOLUNTEERS THAT WE HAVE RECRUITED THROUGHOUT -- WE HAVE NOT MISSED A DELIVERY.

THE IMPACT ON RECRUITMENT DUE TO THE COVID, IN THE BEGINNING PEOPLE WERE NOT COMING OUT.

HOWEVER, OUR APPLICATION, VOLUNTEER APPLICATION HAS DOUBLED SINCE THEN.

SO WE'VE -- NOT ONLY DO WE FOCUS ON MAKING SURE THAT THESE VITAL MEALS WERE GETTING OUT, BUT ALSO DOING THOSE CHECK-INS.

WE HAVE VOLUNTEERS NOW WHO MOBILIZE USING ZOOM AND USING PHONE CALLS TO CALL IN AND CHECK IN ON THE SENIORS.

WE ARE WORKING WITH VOLUNTEERS WHO LEFT NEW YORK TO GO TO MONTANA OR PENNSYLVANIA AND THEY'RE STILL IN TOUCH WITH THEIR SENIORS, TALKING TO THEM ON THE PHONE.

WOW.

SO, BETH, YOU KNOW, AS YOU GUYS MENTIONED, YOU HAVE TO INCREASE, YOU HAVE HAD TO INCREASE AS A RESULT OF COVID THE SECURITY, THE PPEs, YOU'VE HAD TO MAKE SURE PEOPLE HAD THE RIGHT PROTECTIVE GEAR.

ON TOP OF THAT, YOU ARE SERVING MORE PEOPLE.

HOW ARE YOU PAYING FOR THIS?

WE'RE SPENDING AN IMMENSE AMOUNT OF MONEY FROM MARCH UNTIL JULY ALONE WE PENT $4 MILLION MORE THAN WE HAD BUDGETED FOR THE YEAR BEFORE.

WE ARE SO GRATEFUL TO EVERYDAY NEW YORKERS, INDIVIDUALS, FOUNDATIONS, BUSINESSES WHO RECOGNIZE THE NEED FOR FOOD AND THE INCREASED AMOUNT OF FOOD INSECURITY OF OLDER PEOPLE BEING HUNGRY, AND WE HAVE BEEN BLESSED, QUITE FRANKLY, TO BE ABLE TO COME CLOSE TO COVERING OUR ADDITIONAL EXPENSES WITH THIS.

WE ARE VERY GRATEFUL, BOTH, OF COURSE, FOR OUR VOLUNTEERS BUT FOR THE DONORS WHO ARE SUPPORTING US AND RECOGNIZING THE NEED AS NEVER BEFORE.

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST -- FOR YOUR WHOLE OPERATION, WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST SOURCE OF FUNDING?

IS IT THE GOVERNMENT?

IS IT FOUNDATIONS OR IS IT INDIVIDUAL DONORS?

WE HAVE ABOUT A $21 MILLION BUDGET NORMALLY.

WE ARE PROBABLY TOUCHING CLOSE TO $30 MILLION THIS YEAR.

WE GET ABOUT 12% OF OUR FUNDING FROM THE GOVERNMENT, FROM THE CITY OF NEW YORK.

THE REST IS INDIVIDUAL DONORS, AND THAT'S WHERE, YOU KNOW, YOU LOOK AT 30,000, 40,000, 50,000 INDIVIDUALS COMING OUT TO SUPPORT CITY MEALS, PARTLY KNOWING BECAUSE 100% OF EVERY DONATION FROM THE GENERAL PUBLIC WILL GO TO MEAL PREPARATION AND DELIVERY.

I THINK THAT IS A POINT OF DIFFERENCE FOR US AND REALLY CRITICAL FOR PEOPLE WHEN THEY WANT TO DONATE.

THEY KNOW WHERE THE MONEY IS GOING.

YOU KNOW, I READ THAT.

HOW DO YOU DO THAT?

OUR BOARD.

OUR BOARD IS INCREDIBLY GENEROUS AND THEY ALLOW US TO USE THEIR DONATIONS FOR OUR ADMINISTRATIVE COSTS, AND WE DO ALSO GET A GRANT FROM THE CITY.

PART OF THE MONEY FROM THE CITY DOES COVER ADMINISTRATIVE COSTS.

VIVIENNE, YOU TOUCHED ABOUT HOW YOUR VOLUNTEERS STAY IN CONTACT ON THE PHONE WITH YOUR RECIPIENTS, BUT THE FACT OF THE MATTER IS THAT COVID HAS IMPOSED THESE SOCIAL DISTANCING AND SEPARATION.

YOUR MAIN MISSION CLEARLY IS TO FEED ELDERLY WHO WILL MIGHT NOT HAVE THAT FOOD AVAILABLE OTHERWISE, BUT PART OF YOUR MISSION, NEARLY AS IMPORTANT, HAS TO BE THE FACT OF BRINGING COMPANIONSHIP TO YOUR RECIPIENTS WHO ARE, YOU KNOW, LONELY IN MANY CASES.

HOW HAS COVID AFFECTED THAT ASPECT?

ABSOLUTELY.

THE COMPANION SERVES AS A MAJOR PART OF IT, AND WE HAVE A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT SOCIAL ISOLATION IS AT THIS POINT.

BETH SPOKE ABOUT THE CORPORATE GROUPS THAT ARE WORKING WITH US, AND THEY GIVE TO US FINANCIALLY BUT THEY ALSO PROVIDE THEIR OWN TEAM OF STAFF TO HELP US MAKE THOSE WELLNESS CALLS, THOSE CHECK-INS ONCE A WEEK, TWICE A WEEK, 15 MINUTES TO AN HOUR JUST TO CHECK IN ON THE SENIORS, TO MAKE SURE THAT THEY'RE OKAY.

SO WE'RE STILL ABIDING BY OUR MISSION.

IT IS JUST THAT RIGHT NOW WE'RE NOT DOING AS MUCH FACE-TO-FACE.

WE ARE STILL DELIVERING THE MEALS, WHICH IS PART OF THE FACE-TO-FACE, BUT WE HAVE MOBILIZED MORE VOLUNTEERS TO MAKE THOSE CALLS, MULTIPLE, MULTIPLE CALLS.

AND, BETH, YOU KNOW, AS I SAID IN THE INTRODUCTION, THE VACCINES ARE ALREADY BEING DISTRIBUTED, BUT AT THE SAME TIME WE'RE BEING TOLD BY EXPERTS AND ELECTED OFFICIALS THAT IT WILL BE A BAD COVID WINTER, MORE CASES, MORE HOSPITALIZATIONS, MORE DEATH.

AS A RESULT, MOST CLOSING UP OF THE CITY.

HOW ARE YOU PREPARED FOR THAT?

WE HAVE LEARNED SO MUCH AS AN EMERGENCY PROVIDER FOR THE CITY OVER THE PAST DECADES.

WE WERE HERE FOR 9/11.

WE WERE BOTH HERE FOR HURRICANE SANDY, AND WE WERE READY.

I MEAN WE WEREN'T PREPARED FOR THE LONGEVITY AND SCOPE OF THE PANDEMIC, BUT WE HAVE HAD FOOD ON HAND IN OUR WAREHOUSE.

WE HAVE EIGHT MORE MONTHS OF FOOD READY TO GO AT A MOMENT'S NOTICE.

SO WE ARE PREPARING FOR THE WORST AND HOPING FOR THE BEST, AND REALLY WE WILL MAKE SURE THAT OLDER NEW YORKERS GET A MEAL EVERY DAY THAT THEY NEED.

THEY NEED IT.

DO YOU THINK THAT COVID HAS TRANSFORMED THE WAY YOU DO BUSINESS PERMANENTLY?

WILL IT BE DIFFERENT AFTER COVID?

I DO.

I THINK THERE IS A LOT OF LEARNING THAT WE HAVE GONE THROUGH THROUGH COVID.

I THINK THAT WE'RE MORE EFFECTIVE.

WE ARE MORE EFFICIENT IN HOW WE DO THINGS.

WE HAVE CHANGED THINGS AT OUR EMERGENCY MEAL DISTRIBUTION CENTER.

VIV AND HER TEAM ARE ORIENTING, DOING VOLUNTEER ORIENTATION JUST LIKE THIS, VIA ZOOM.

I THINK THOSE ARE THINGS THAT WILL HOLD INTO THE FUTURE TO HELP US EXPAND OUR REACH, BECAUSE I THINK THAT, YOU KNOW, AS YOU SAID, THE VACCINE IS HERE, BUT IT IS GOING TO BE A LONG TIME BEFORE EVERYONE GETS THAT VACCINE, BEFORE PEOPLE FEEL SAFE AGAIN.

I THINK WE WILL BE WEARING MASKS FOR A YEAR OR TWO TO COME, AND WE NEED TO MAKE SURE THAT WE ARE NOUR NOURISHING THE OLDER NEW YORKERS WHO BUILT THIS CITY FOR US.

WE HAVE ABOUT 15 SECONDS LEFT AND I HAVE TO ASK YOU THIS.

IF OUR VIEWERS WANT TO VOLUNTEER, WANT TO DONATE OR BECOME RECIPIENTS, VIVIENNE, IN 15 SECONDS HOW DO THEY GET HOLD OF YOU.

CITYMEALS.org.

YOU CAN ASK FOR MEALS, TO VOLUNTEER, TO DONATE.

ALL RIGHT.

AND THEN WE WILL TRY TO PUT IT ON OUR WEBSITE AS WELL.

BOTH OF YOU, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US TO TALK ABOUT THIS VERY IMPORTANT TOPIC.

THANK YOU.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING US.

OKAY, BYE-BYE.

BYE-BYE.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, The Peter G. Peterson and Joan Ganz Cooney Fund, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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