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In the News: Home Delivered Meals -- and Human Contact

The Stanley Isaacs Neighborhood Center on East 93rd Street brings six lunches a week to homebound elderly residents from East 42nd Street to East 106th Street, with funding from the City's Department for the Aging (DFTA), Citymeals-on-Wheels and private fundraising. It is one of the oldest meals-on-wheels program in the city, started back in 1965 with delivery to eight homebound neighborhood residents. Today, meals are prepared at a catering service in Long Island City, and there are four vans delivering 375 meals Monday to Thursday, and two meals on Friday; the second Friday meal provides a cold Saturday lunch. While their current city contract funds 352 meals a day, the number of homebound elderly requesting meals recently climbed to 375. The Isaacs Center uses private fundraising to provide those additional meals, insuring that no elderly person in their geographic area who is unable to get out or prepare meals will go hungry.

"The homebound population is an absent population," said Beverly Jackson, Director of Senior Services at Isaacs Center." No one knows they are there."

Who are these invisible people? By eligibility requirements, they are over 60 and have a physical or mental disability which prevents them from leaving home or preparing meals. Most are in their late 70s and 80s. Over half are at least 80 years old and ten percent are over 90. Over fifty percent live below the poverty line with an annual income less than $8,240. The majority are women.

It is often the case that Isaacs Center staff members delivering the meals are the only contact a homebound person has with the outside world. In one recent incident, a client didn't respond when driver Joe Colazzo knocked on her door. He kept knocking until he heard a faint voice calling for help. The woman had fallen down and was unable to get up. Joe immediately called for assistance and the client was rushed to the hospital. She is now back home, doing well.

"Food alone won't meet all of people's needs," explained Beverly Jackson. "We want to cure some of the social isolation that many homebound people feel."

In the last year, the Isaacs Center has successfully involved about a third of their homebound clients in conference call activities where they can hear lectures or concerts, be involved in support groups, play bingo or participate in an exercise classÑall over the phone.

Their next initiative is something truly innovative: bringing Web TV to the homebound elderly. With a planning grant from the Isaac H. Tuttle Fund, the Isaacs Center will be providing five of their homebound clients with a keyboard, a Web TV box, and training in use of this equipment. The grant will also cover additional phone expenses incurred. Through this internet access, homebound clients will soon be able to connect with the Isaacs Center, other seniors, and the rest of the world through chat rooms, the web, email, and down the line, with the addition of a Web Cam, virtual home visits.

Lynda Sounds Off: Delivery Time Limits

One of the requirements of the City's Department for the Aging funding is that all meals be delivered within two hours. While it is understandable that the city wants to insure that the food is delivered in a timely fashion to remain warm and fresh, and that the nutritional content does not dissipate, this time squeeze often prevents staff members who are making the deliveries from spending even a couple of minutes with each client. "They want to see the client, make sure they are okay," said Beverly Jackson. "And to do this, they'd like to have a little more interaction. So would the clients." But that's frequently not possible within these time constraints.

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