Thanksgiving is a time many New Yorkers likely spend hours around a food-laden table with countless loved ones. But for some of our neighbors, especially the city’s growing elderly population, the holiday can be lonely — and hungry.
According to Citymeals on Wheels, more than 167,000 seniors over 60 lack reliable access to affordable, healthy food. Since the nonprofit began in 1981, 56 million nutritionist-approved meals have been delivered to needy seniors throughout the five boroughs — but its busiest day is Thanksgiving, with about 620 staffers and volunteers hand-delivering 21,000 meals last year.
“Holidays are a particularly lonely time for people who have outlived their friends, family, even their own children, so we find it really one of the most important days of the years for us,” Citymeals’ Executive Director Beth Shapiro told Metro.
For Upper East Side resident Irene Petrillo, who will turn 99 on Dec. 10, having Citymeals deliver on Thanksgiving is “very convenient and lovely.” If she didn’t get the well-balanced packaged meal, “I’d probably open a can of something or have spaghetti,” she said.
Petrillo has been in the same apartment for 31 years and has been receiving Citymeals since she fell and broke her wrist more than three years ago. Between that and the cane she needs, she was no longer able to carry her own groceries.
“Because of Citymeals, I’m able to live independently — it’s a big part of my freedom,” she said. “I really do count on it. It’s a blessing.”
Petrillo and other Citymeals recipients “are examples of our ‘hidden hungry,’” Shapiro said. “They’ve been there for years, and we don’t see them. They’re not out on the street, but they are the ones who built this city for you, for me and everyone else who’s here.
“It’s heartbreaking — but it feels really great to know how much you’ve done for them,” she added.
Elderly population on the rise
Over the past decade, Shapiro has seen a continual increase in the elderly population and hunger within it, both of which are here to stay.
“By 2040, there will be a 40 percent growth in that age demographic,” she said. “Actually, for the first time in history, older people will outnumber children, which is a drastic change when you think about how that shift affects us culturally.”
Who does Citymeals feed?
Here are some statistics on the more than 18,000 elderly New Yorkers Citymeals feeds more than 2 million meals to on an annual basis:
• More than 60 percent are 80 or older
• 23 percent are 90 or older
• More than 200 have lived at least a century
• All are chronically disabled by conditions like vision loss, diabetes, arthritis and heart disease
• 66 percent are women
• 57 percent live alone
• 40 percent rarely or never leave their homes
• 8 percent have no one to talk to regularly aside from Citymeals volunteers
• 1/3 live on less than $12,060 a year
• About half live on less than $18,090
• 400 survived the Holocaust
For more info or to volunteer, visit citymeals.org.