‘The Only Conversation They Have in a Day Is With Me’


At 6 a.m. on an sizzling and humid early summer season morning, I visited Borinquen Senior Center in Bushwick, Brooklyn the place workers from RiseBoro, a company that companions with Citymeals, cooks and packages meals for older homebound aged New Yorkers, who’re now not capable of store or cook dinner for themselves.

Nearly a dozen folks—cooks and volunteers—from RiseBoro are working with Citymeals on Wheels to cook dinner and package deal meals for supply to homebound, aged New Yorkers who’re now not capable of store or cook dinner for themselves.

The partitions of the senior middle are painted with brightly coloured murals devoted to Puerto Rican delight: flamboyant flowering timber, scenes of group constructing, and other people dancing and celebrating in plazas in entrance of stylish colonial buildings.

But the room is now darkish for a lot of the day. When the lights are on, the one sounds to be heard are voices of workers and volunteers diligently packing meals for supply to their frail neighbors.

The metropolis’s senior facilities closed to the general public in mid-March because of the pandemic, leaving many older New Yorkers with no place to go for breakfast or lunch. Practically in a single day, a large variety of them grew to become homebound, remoted, and uncertain the place their subsequent meal would come from.

Following the primary wave of the pandemic, demand for meals among the many metropolis’s seniors has been and stays unprecedented. Before the disaster Citymeals served greater than 18,000 homebound aged. Since March, Citymeals has added 3,000 recipients to its weekend meal route. They have additionally served one other 34,000 older New Yorkers who usually are not on a common supply route.

A eating room for seniors at Borinquen Senior Center in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Many seniors haven’t left their properties since March. As harmful as malnutrition is, social isolation may be equally detrimental, leaving many with nervousness and melancholy.

These are seniors who weren’t homebound previous to the disaster, however now face meals insecurity. Before the pandemic, these new recipients may need gone to a native senior middle for a every day meal. But now, even a journey to the nook bodega is simply too dangerous for these with power sicknesses.

What Disasters Reveal

I’ve spent a lot of my profession protecting ecological disasters, and it has ready me for the civil unrest we’re reeling from. From the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima to the abject failure to reply to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, these disasters all reveal the underlying wants of society, and the true character of these tasked with responding.

When these photographs had been taken, New York City was experiencing two social tsunamis: the pandemic and the protests towards police violence following the homicide of George Floyd in Minneapolis. During that point, I spent my mornings and afternoons with Citymeals workers, seeing in a new means the acute want for meals and first rate housing for the aged, together with many older folks of coloration.

The folks delivering meals featured right here put their lives on the road every day to examine in on their neighbors and guarantee they get fed. Even on the peak of the surge in COVID-19 infections and deaths in New York in March and April, they continued to make deliveries uninterrupted. They stroll many miles every day, journey dozens of elevators, press a whole bunch of doorbells. For elevated security, they now place every meal in a plastic bag, dangle it on the doorknob, and stand again six toes till the door is answered and so they can be certain their recipient is properly.

As I adopted volunteers in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, one other aspect of want shortly grew to become obvious: the psychological stresses older folks endure attributable to poverty and isolation.

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In pre-COVID instances, meals helped carry folks collectively, together with the aged. They met on benches outdoors their condo buildings and greeted each other in group facilities. Grandchildren stopped by with requirements and treats. But that has all stopped. Given the danger of this virus, the one contact these meal recipients have with different folks is the transient alternate when meals is delivered to them by workers and volunteers.

Deliveries on Manhattan’s Lower East Side

Linda White has been delivering meals to the aged for the previous 5 years. A chosen important employee, she is a part of town’s home-delivered meal program, supported by Citymeals. Over the previous 5 years, White has gotten to know the aged recipients properly. As she makes her means via her route on the Lower East Side, she greets them with heat and a gracious spirit. She’ll ask the older males she sees, “How’re you doing, Pops?” The work she does is as a lot social as it’s about nourishment.


Linda White delivers meals on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

During the protests, companies had been boarded up after close by institutions had been looted, and a number of the streets had been closed. White stays undeterred. “Regardless of what’s happening,” she mentioned, “we’re gonna make it work, even if we have to park three blocks down and have to walk. You gotta take the good and the bad. Not every day is gonna be smooth sailing.”

She considers these seniors household. “They know my knock,” she provides. And it’s evident meal recipients usually are not simply numbers to be checked off on a supply sheet. They’re all particular person folks with their very own wants, histories, and tastes.


Meal deliveries encounter all types of conditions on their route. As frontline staff they’re in proximity to these not carrying masks, resembling this second when a man was receiving bodily remedy. However, they’re cautious about their very own security and ensure greatest practices are adopted when delivering meals.

During the peak of the pandemic, “They were scared for their lives,“ White says. “They made sure they social distanced because they didn’t want to get sick and they also wanted to protect me.”

“Before it used to be a warm welcoming when I came to the door,” White continues. “‘Hey, Linda,’ they’d say, ‘Come in for a second!’ Now, we have to be so distanced from each other. It’s like we’re missing that passion that we have for each other—and they definitely miss that intimate communication. . . . They’re like moms and dads to me. I really cherish them and look up to them.”


Linda White says goodbye to certainly one of her meal recipients.

She says that loneliness and melancholy may be as detrimental to their well being as going hungry. “A lot of these clients don’t have family, they’re alone. As long as I can protect them and myself, I will try anything to see a smile and just say hi.”

Putting Their Hearts Into the Meals

Another factor disasters reveal is that life isn’t just about surviving—it’s additionally about residing.


Chef Jeffery Stewart.

Jeffrey Stewart, the chef on the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center, sees cooking as a supply of psychological consolation. Stewart crafts menus and selects components with taste as a precedence.

200721-seniors-portraits-coronavirus-pandemic-food-insecurity-meal-delivery-new-york-city-13-350x233-7866978 Freshly ready meals in Stewart’s kitchen. 200721-seniors-portraits-coronavirus-pandemic-food-insecurity-meal-delivery-new-york-city-15-350x233-9760253 The cooked meals are packed into baggage that hold meals sizzling and objects resembling juice and fruit chilly.

While workers at these meal facilities present the care given to homebound people, the Citymeals’ Emergency Meal Distribution Center in the Bronx additionally illustrates the immense want for emergency meals.


Fourteen p.c of Citymeals’ recipients dwell on only one meal a day. Emergency meal containers guarantee they’ve extra meals available, in case common deliveries get interrupted.


Boxes of meals aren’t simply inanimate objects, they’re care packages for hungry people struggling to remain secure. Each one was headed to a individual in want.

Delivering with Care in Brooklyn

Andrew Smith rises early every morning at 4:30 a.m. and makes his option to RiseBoro in the Bushwick part of Brooklyn to pack up his supply truck. With a concentrated depth, he counts every meal and tunes out distraction. Like a surgeon engaged on a coronary heart affected person, he is aware of time is of the essence


Andrew Smith arranges a mixture of sizzling meals and chilly meals.

Originally from Jamaica, Smith has traveled the world as a sprinter so he strikes shortly and with precision. After packing the meals, he brings that velocity and effectivity to his route: He normally ends his day at 2 p.m., whereas most others would end hours later.


On his route in Sunset Park in Brooklyn, Smith has a recipient on nearly each block.

Smith is as personable as he’s swift, and, like White, he spends time with every recipient, acknowledging the ladies with a charming, “Greetings to you, my lady.”

He sees greater than a hundred folks on his route—and he has memorized the place every one lives. He doesn’t depend on a map, which he mentioned would solely sluggish him down. Memorization, he mentioned, allows him to make adjustments shortly when a recipient wants a meal at a sure time—to take their medicine on a full abdomen, for instance.


The recipient in this constructing has issues along with his foot. Concerned for him, Smith devised this pulley system.

New York yesterday entered Phase 4 of its reopening, with zoos, gardens, and outside bars and eating opening up; the bleakest days of the pandemic are beginning to recede into the previous.


A wheelchair-bound shopper indicators to Smith that he’s at dwelling and might obtain a meal.

However, as COVID-19 circumstances rise dramatically in different states, White, Smith, Stewart, and the organizations they work for know this can be solely a transient respite—and the economic system is a good distance from restoration. The latest volunteers are nonetheless wanted—and extra are more likely to come. The isolation, starvation, and want for care amongst seniors will proceed and develop, particularly with the potential for a second wave of infections this fall or winter.


A son along with his mom who acquired emergency meals in the South Bronx.

All photographs by Jake Price.