Coronavirus is altering senior meal delivery services in New York

Here's how COVID-19 is challenging senior food programs like Meals on Wheels

As the coronavirus pandemic keeps millions of Americans homebound in an effort to prevent the further spread of the respiratory illness, small and large non-profit programs that feed the elderly are being tested in light of the CDC’s adamant distancing guidelines.

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The Carter Burden Network in New York City typically promotes the well-being of seniors age 60 and older through an assortment of services, however, with the number of confirmed coronavirus cases growing in the U.S., its senior centers have been forced to close down until further notice for safety reasons.

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“With our senior centers closed, our top priority is ensuring the older New Yorkers we serve remain healthy, nourished and connected,” William J. Dionne, the executive director of the Carter Burden Network wrote to FOX Business. “Carter Burden Network is distributing ‘take-out’ meals that seniors will pick up from our Carter Burden/Leonard Covello Senior Program in East Harlem, the Carter Burden Lehman Village Senior Program in East Harlem, and the Carter Burden Roosevelt Island Senior Center on Roosevelt Island.”

This newly implemented but temporary meal distribution method will take place Monday through Friday and is meant to replace the group meals seniors are used to from its facilities. Extra meals will also be given out at these three centers on Fridays to prepare seniors for the weekend, according to Dionne.

“At the Carter Burden Luncheon Club at Epiphany Church on the Upper East Side, we are distributing twice-weekly ‘take-out’ meals and cold packs (multiple days supply) outside the Church for the rest of the week.”

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For seniors who are ill, injured or simply can’t make the journey, family members or neighbors may be allowed to pick up the meals instead.

“Our staff are making outreach calls daily to all our members and therefore are able to address any special circumstances when seniors are unable to obtain the takeaway meals,” Dionne explained.

The Carter Burden Network has partnered with the likeminded nourishment program Citymeals on Wheels to feed its senior members. Citymeals on Wheels is providing enough resources for the Carter Burden Network to put together a box of three “shelf-stable”, non-perishable meals in case of an emergency or unattainable grocery store runs.

Outside of sustenance, social services and senior center staff are conducting daily outreach over the phone to ensure senior members are doing well and have a human connection.

The Carter Burden Network and Citymeals on Wheels aren’t the only non-profits showing New York seniors that they care. FeedMore WNY covers four counties in the western part of the state, including Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties.

Fortunately, COVID-19 has not shuttered the organization’s home delivery meal program, which operates in Erie and Niagara.

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“FeedMore WNY continues to work tirelessly to provide nutritious food and friendship to our neighbors in need. As always, the health and well-being of our clients, staff and dedicated volunteers remain our top priority,” Anne McKenna, FeedMore WNY’s chief communications officer told FOX Business. “The majority of our home-delivered meal volunteers are retired people who have a desire to give back to their local community. They are compassionate and generous with their time and resources.”

She added, “However, our volunteers come from a variety of different backgrounds, including professionals who deliver during their lunch break, organizations that encourage their employees to give back through regularly scheduled meal delivery and college students who use this opportunity as a way to support their aging neighbors.”

Throughout the United States, Meals on Wheels America feeds seniors who are confined in their homes.

“Meals on Wheels serves an incredibly vulnerable population and is often the primary lifeline delivering so much more than just a meal, especially in uncertain times,” Jenny Young, the Meals on Wheels America spokesperson told FOX Business. “Our local providers are working tirelessly to adapt to the rapidly evolving situation and respond to the increasing demand for services.”

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Some of this adaption includes "social distancing." Meals on Wheels delivery drivers stand 6-10 feet away from doors after they place the recipient’s meal package on the ground for a contact-free handoff.

However, Young also noted that the organization’s operations are reliant on mandates from state and local governments and/or health departments, who she said “have the best information and most accurate instructions for each unique community.”

“Local programs should work closely with them to determine the best course of action,” she added.

Meals on Wheels is urging Congress and the Presidential Administration to ensure local senior nutrition programs are adequately resourced, according to Young. Additionally, the organization has started a national COVID-19 Response Fund so no senior is forgotten.

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For non-car owners, there are “Meals on Heels” programs hosted by local churches, shelters and non-profit organizations that allow volunteers to deliver food on foot.

The coronavirus has infected more than 235,404 people across the globe and has caused more than 9,785 deaths so far, according to the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 live tracker. The illness has a particularly higher death rate among those who are 50 and older and people who have underlying health conditions. The disease has a 14.8 percent death rate for seniors 80 and above, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the United States, 10,755 people have been infected with coronavirus and 154 have died from complications of COVID-19.