Earlier this month, Proskauer participated in “Eat Cheap for Charity,” an annual campaign by Citymeals on Wheels (Citymeals) that encourages lawyers throughout New York to spend less on lunch and donate their savings to charity. As a proud participant of the program, Proskauer makes a charitable donation to Citymeals and encourages all lawyers in the New York office to moderate their lunch spending for one week during the summer. The funds donated support Citymeals’s mission to provide nutritious meals and vital companionship to homebound elderly New Yorkers. In addition to raising funds for the organization, Citymeals’ “Eat Cheap” campaign helps highlight an important issue in the fight against hunger – the ever-growing senior population and rising demand on senior-citizen services.
In New York, many of the government-funded programs for seniors are overseen or supported by the city’s Department for the Aging (DFTA), whose mission is to ensure the highest quality of life for older adults. To accomplish this goal, DFTA partners with hundreds of community-based organizations to provide services and support for housing, employment, retirement, home-care, mental health care, hunger and much more. However, government funds only stretch so far and thus additional action and resources are often needed. In 1981, Citymeals was founded to fill a troubling gap in the home-delivered meal programs for seniors. Until that point, seniors enrolled in the home-delivered meals program only received meals Monday-Friday. Meals were not delivered on weekends, holidays, or during times of emergency when agencies are closed. Over long holiday weekends, seniors could go up to four days without receiving a meal. For more than 35 years, Citymeals has raised private funds to supplement the DFTA-funded program to ensure that seniors receive meals every day of the year.
Today, Citymeals serves more than 18,000 seniors and delivers more than 2 million meals every year. The number of seniors enrolled in the program is nearly triple what is was when Citymeals was founded. Enrollment is expected to grow rapidly still. In May 2018, DFTA published “Plan 2025” to address the areas in which the city will need to invest in order to adequately care for a senior population that is expected to increase by 15-20% over the next 20 years. In anticipation of the increased demand for the home delivered meals program, DFTA engaged outside consultants to provide a full-scale analysis and redesign of the current program. By achieving efficiencies in delivery costs and securing less-expensive yet higher-quality food, DFTA aims to offer a greater choice of cuisines to the ever-growing and ever-diversifying senior population.
Following DFTA’s lead, Citymeals is also preparing for an increase demand on their services. Of the 18,000 seniors they serve, more than 40% rarely or never leave their home and at least 8% have no one with whom they can talk or have any social interaction. Understanding the adverse effects of loneliness on overall health, Citymeals has also expanded its Friendly Visiting program, designed to alleviate the social isolation many homebound seniors face. Volunteers who participate are matched with a senior with whom they meet for one-hour per week for at least six months. For those who cannot meet the required time commitment, Citymeals offers a number of other opportunities through which volunteers can provide the vital companionship that so many seniors need. Last year, nearly 25,000 volunteers participated in one of Citymeals’ programs.
As our government agencies and local non-profits prepare for a growing need, it is important to remember that we as individuals can have a meaningful impact in the wellbeing of our elder neighbors. Whether we check in on a neighbor from time to time, bring them a warm meal, or send them a note of best wishes on their birthday, simple acts of kindness help ward off the threats of hunger and social isolation that are all too real for seniors in New York.