Meals on Wheels delivers Christmas Day feasts

NEW YORK — The smell of roasting Cornish game hens fills the kitchen in the pre-dawn hours in Williamsburg. Not at a fancy restaurant, but in a kitchen part of a network of prep stations city-wide that will feed 23,000 elderly clients who can’t cook for themselves.

It’s the daily miracle of City Meals On Wheels, founded in 1981 by the famous New York restaurant critic Gael Greene after seeing a story about hungry elderly home bound seniors who couldn’t get meals delivered on weekends.

Executive Director Beth Shapiro shared the mission with pride.

“Today, more than 20,000 meals will be delivered by volunteers, along with a smile and a shared conversation. It keeps them fed, but also connected. Both of those are so important.”

Mikey and Virginia were busy in the steamy kitchen, boiling broccoli and cooking savory arroz con gandules (traditional Spanish rice and beans). They’re part of a team of cooks who will serve local residents who also come to the RiseBoro senior center in Williamsburg for a community meal. Three hundred will be served here alone; 2,000 will share their Christmas dinner at centers like this city-wide.

“We keep a lean staff, and are proud that 100 percent of public donations go to feeding those who need it,” Shapiro said. “And we can’t do it without our volunteers. Last year we had more than 21,000 volunteers generously give more than 68,000 hours of service to City Meals.”

New York is home to nearly a million and a half seniors over 60, and that population is projected to balloon by 40 percent by 2040. Even more telling, one in 10 elderly New Yorkers faces hunger. Every City Meals client faces some disabling condition like diabetes, heart disease or vision or hearing loss, and nearly all of them need assurance to walk.