From fresh kimchi to gefilte fish, immigrant seniors across Queens participating in the city’s Meals-on-Wheels program have seen their enthnically diverse menu options replaced with whitewashed entrees like Salisbury steak and spinach.
Now, new Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) wants to adjust the Department for the Aging system in place that has allowed nonprofits like Catholic Charities to serve seniors who aren’t necessarily in the group’s constituency.
“For someone in an ethnic community that asks for a particular kind of meal, the senior center that can provide that meal is not allowed to give it to them,” said Vallone at a Queens Interagency Council on Aging conference.
Since a 2008 shift under Mayor Bloomberg, the nonprofits that make and deliver food for the program have been faced with serving a growing pool of clients — making it less likely that Queen seniors get the ethnic meals they desire.
Vallone, a former elder law attorney and chairman of the Council’s subcommittee on senior centers, plans to hold a hearing to examine improvements to the program, which provides 17,795 New Yorkers with free daily meals.
A survey released in September found that 92% of the meals served alligned with the seniors’ cultural backgrounds.
But advocates say the 2008 reorganization of the program forces seniors into larger districts that don’t always reflect the rapidly shifting ethnic makeup of the borough.
“We should pull back from these large districts and make them not as large so you get the local community-based providers,” said Bobbie Sackman, director of public policy at the Council on Senior Centers and Services.
Korean Community Services prepares the only home-delivered Korean meals in the city and the only Chinese meals in Queens. They operate as subcontractors for four nonprofits. Linda Lee, the nonprofit’s executive director, said many seniors call them directly, asking for their ethnic meals.
“Our hands are kind of tied,” said Lee. “We know that there are a lot more seniors that need these services but unfortunately we’re not allowed to advertise.”