Citymeals meets the needs of New York's elderly with a personal touch


New York, NEW YORK -- Citymeals-on-Wheels is a New York City nonprofit responsible for meal preparation and delivery to 18,000 housebound elderly New Yorkers across all five boroughs.

The organization was founded in 1981 by restaurant critic, Gael Greene and chef, James Beard after Greene read an upsetting article about the elderly in New York going without food on weekends and holidays, as the city’s Department for the Aging only delivers meals Monday through Friday and not on government holidays. Greene and Beard quickly began a campaign to raise money to provide meals for the upcoming Christmas holiday.

“[From there] they knew that they could continue and do more than that,” the charity's current Executive Director, Beth Shapiro said. “Citymeals was founded to provide weekend, holiday and emergency meals for [housebound] elderly New Yorkers, for people sixty and older who can no longer shop or cook for themselves. And it’s really ensuring that these people have a meal everyday of the year.”

Shapiro shared that prior to her involvement with Citymeals, she had no nonprofit experience.

“I worked for 20 years in the for-profit world doing marketing and communications,” Shapiro said. “And I really made a conscious effort that I wanted to leave that world and go into the nonprofit sector.”

The problem Shapiro faced was that many of the non-profit organizations she interviewed for were only looking for someone who had prior experience working with nonprofits. Shapiro says she owes her current position to the woman who decided to take a chance on her. Marcia Stein, Citymeals-on-Wheels’ Executive Director at the time, was “able to see the benefit of looking a little broader than that.”

Shapiro has been with Citymeals for eight years now, serving as the charity’s Executive Director since 2011. Her responsibilities include overseeing the raising of funds, working with government officials and staff, maintaining relationships with board members and helping to grow funds and programs.

“To me, it’s ensuring the growth and sustainability of Citymeals on Wheels, which is making sure that [housebound] elderly New Yorkers have a meal delivered to their door everyday,” Shapiro said of her position.

Shapiro said her work with the charity has had a big impact on her and the way she sees the world around her.

“It has given me a deeper respect for the elderly population, and a greater awareness...about the issues facing elderly not just in New York City, but far beyond. And such a strong understanding of how every person makes a contribution, whether large that everyone knows about, or small, in this world, in this city,” Shapiro said.

Citymeals works with 30 meal centers to help prepare and deliver the nutritionally balanced meals, and it relies on over 12,000 volunteers a year.

The organization also aims to provide human company to the 70 percent of meal recipients that live alone. Citymeals also offers several programs to help combat loneliness, including a letter and telephone program, in addition to the Friendly Visiting program, which Shapiro said is the most engaging.

“Friendly Visiting pairs a volunteer with a meal recipient," she explained. "It’s just someone coming into the home of an older person who really typically doesn’t have anyone else there. They both agree to a visit for one hour a week for at least 6 months, but those relationships don’t end usually--they just keep going on...often for many years.”

Shapiro described how volunteers typically begin with the intention of being involved only one time and then return to help time and time again.

“I think that volunteers are really touched by the people they meet. It is a heartwarming, fulfilling hour or two," Shapiro said. “We are recognizing those people who helped build this city and keeping them comfortable in their homes, where they want to be.”

To learn more about Citymeals and how you can get involved, visit their website here.