In recent months, the city has coped with everything from COVID variants to unprecedented flooding. At every step, sadly, it has been older New Yorkers who are most likely to find themselves in harm’s way. All of this has come at a time when the city’s senior population is growing; according to data from NYU’s Furman Center, the percentage of Upper West Siders aged 65 or older has nearly doubled in the last two decades. At the same time, the city’s Department for the Aging has remained among the lowest-funded agencies in the city.
One of the biggest challenges facing older New Yorkers is food insecurity. Even before the pandemic, one in four older New Yorkers living at home was at risk of not having enough to eat. When the pandemic hit and older New Yorkers had no choice but to shelter in place, demand for at-home food delivery skyrocketed. The city provided meals through the GetFoodNYC program, but while food insecurity remains high, the program is being phased out.
Currently, 16,000 older New Yorkers receive emergency food through the GetFood program. That is almost enough to fill every seat at Madison Square Garden, but it doesn’t cover all older New Yorkers who are food insecure. Moreover, while the city supports other home delivered meal programs, those programs only deliver one meal per day, which is just not enough. One meal alone does not provide proper nutrition for seniors. We need to do better by Older New Yorkers who helped build our city.
The good news is there are already organizations in the trenches ensuring that older New Yorkers are nourished. With adequate investment from the city, those organizations will be better positioned to serve more people and in better ways.
Encore Community Services, where I work, provides over half a million meals to older New Yorkers annually in neighborhoods along the West Side of Manhattan, from the Upper West Side to Chelsea. While we are doing the best we can with the resources we have, we are only scratching the surface of need.
Organizations like Encore and many other nonprofits could feed even more seniors in need if we were able to increase our capacity for cooking and storing food and increasing our efficiency with newer, better delivery vans – this all requires the city of New York to make increased investment in infrastructure for Older New Yorkers.
Instead of hustling to serve those who are food insecure in times of crisis, we could create a system where food security is the norm, where meeting basic nutritional needs of older New Yorkers is proactive and consistent. The de Blasio administration has moved the needle on food security, but we need the new administration to make more sustainable and long-term investments.
As our city’s older adult population grows, it has never been more critical that their needs, particularly those related to food security, are addressed. The nonprofit sector stands ready to jump in and help. The time to act is now, before the next disaster is in our midst.
Kaplan is the Executive Director of Encore Community Services, a nonprofit senior services provider serving the West Side of Manhattan.