Providing Meals to Those Most in Need Amidst COVID-19

hetrick during the epidemic
Hetrick-Martin Institute representatives are seen March 20 distributing food to LGBTQ youth in need.

As Governor Andrew Cuomo implements tight restrictions on non-essential services in New York, several critical-mission social service organizations are working through the coronavirus crisis to continue providing food services to those in need.

Some agencies have altered their food distribution operation in an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus. Below is an outline of several organizations’ food service offerings as of the afternoon of March 20.

Citymeals: Citymeals, which delivers more than two million weekend, holiday, and emergency meals to more than 18,000 vulnerable seniors every year, stated that the “city’s home-delivered meal programs continue at this time which Citymeals supports on the weekends, holidays, and in times of emergency.” Citymeals is preparing 200,000 extra meals to absorb the impact of more seniors being homebound during the coronavirus crisis.

Gay Men’s Health Crisis: On March 18, GMHC said the organization was weighing food distribution options that included mailing out supermarket gift cards and delivering meals to clients’ homes.

For the week prior to that, the agency — which in a typical year serves more than 80,000 clients in a meal program that includes lunch Monday to Thursday and dinner on Friday, distributed nearly 1,600 meals in frozen five-meal packets to clients who stopped by its West 38th Street headquarters, which is now closed.

Kelsey Louie, GMHC’s CEO, said, “With a sense of urgency, we are planning out our best options to further serve our food-insecure clients. This planning will entail surverying our clients who are in most need and frequently utliize our food pantry and meals programs…. In our 38th year, GMHC is not new to addressing an epidemic.”

When asked on March 20 if any further decisions had been made on that front, a spokesperson said that the March 18 update is “where we are.”

God’s Love We Deliver: GLWD — which traditionally delivers 8,000 meals each weekday or a total of 2.1 million a year — has gradually shifted is operational procedures in reponse to the growing COVID-19 crisis.

At the end of last week, the group alerted its volunteers — who number roughly 16,500 and donate 145,000 hours annually, saving the agency more than $2 million — not to show up for their shifts if they were feeling ill. The group also altered its delivery protocols to ensure that drivers were wearing protective gloves and avoiding direct contact with clients, though they were encouraged to say hello and check in with them from a safe distance.

As the impact of the coronavirus has deepened, GLWD has shifted to providing clients with shelf-stable meal bags providing enough food for a week.

Given the changing conditions on the ground for every institution around the city and the nation, the agency said it was unable to provide more specific details on its operation and plans going forward, explaining, “We would not want to give you information that could possibly change by day’s end.”

Hetrick-Martin Institute: The Cooper Square agency — which provides more than 11,000 hot meals a year to its LGBTQ youth clientele, more than 20 percent of whom cite the need for food as a primary reason for visiting HMI — has replaced its hot meal program with an on-site distribution effort offering groceries, meals-to-go, and shelf-stable food on Tuesdays and Fridays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Toiletries and menstrual hygiene are also be supplied.