From loose nuts and wet granola to parmesan-crusted salmon and pesto pasta salads, New Yorkers who’ve signed up for the city’s GetFood Emergency Home Food Delivery program have received a wide variety of meals.
As a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, New York City has made an effort to feed the most vulnerable—including senior citizens who have been urged to stay at home—during a time where many don’t know where their next meal may come from. By calling 311, New Yorkers can sign up for the GetFood program. Since the end of March, over 32 million meals have been served across the city but the program has come under scrutiny in the past few weeks due to rotten food being delivered and missing deliveries.
In photos shared with Gothamist, seniors from around the five boroughs showed the variety of meals they’re getting from the GetFood program– some described as “gourmet salads,” and others almost snack-like.
Earlier this month, a photo emerged on Instagram, after it had been shared in a Bed-Stuy neighborhood Facebook group. The photos showed loose nuts, dried fruit, carrots and granola in a to-go box delivered to an elderly couple. The Facebook post generated hundreds of comments and shares as many people sought to show what kind of food was getting delivered to their families.
Niazja Rios, 30, shared the photos of the meal deliveries that she and her grandmother had received in Mott Haven, Bronx.
After signing up for the Get Food program on May 9th, Rios got two boxes filled with meals like to-go bowls of Cheerios, fruit cups and granola bars. “It’s better than nothing,” the freelance artist said. “The thing I was most excited about from my package was I got Almond Breeze.”
“From what it looks like, it looks like snacks and stuff that should’ve probably been distributed in schools but then when the school year ended, they improvised with what they had,” she said.
In the second delivery that came to Rios’ house on May 14th, she ended up having to throw out salad mix, trail mix, and slices of bread because of the quality. “We received two boxes with 3 of these ‘meals’ each,” she wrote in a text message.
The Department of Sanitation, whose commissioner Kathryn Garcia is the “food czar” for pandemic food relief efforts, maintains that no New Yorker is getting snacks as a replacement for a meal. There might be chips and canned fruit in the order, but there are shelf-stable items like canned tuna, soup and almond milk. Each meal follows nutrition guidelines including protein requirements and sodium limits.
On the other end of the spectrum, some senior citizens are getting full course meals. In the Edenwald section of the Bronx, Gem Issac was surprised at the quality of food her 73-year-old father is getting after he signed up for the GetFood program at the Baychester senior center he goes to.
“It’s not food that doesn’t taste good, it’s actually very good,” Issac said. “I’m surprised that the meals are as nice as they are because I know how they do us as black people. They kinda act as if we don’t deserve to have nutritious meals and they under-serve us any opportunity they get.”
In a meal delivery last week, Issac’s father received parmesan-crusted salmon with brown rice and mixed vegetables, as well as wild mushroom farfalle pasta and vegetable baked ziti. Each meal comes with an ingredient list and instructions on reheating.
Issac thinks the deliveries her father is receiving are connected to the racial demographic of the area of the Bronx that they live in that includes Edenwald, Pelham Bay and Wakefield.
“You have enough white people in the mix that I think they know they can’t do that trail mix photo,” she said, referencing what she had seen posted on Instagram.
Down on the Lower East Side, Millie Colon, 67, praised the GetFood program and the senior center she signed up through. Even though she had received snack-like items in April, such as tuna packs and peanut butter and jelly for sandwiches, and then near the end of April received pounds of meat and potatoes, she called her senior center and they fixed the issues.
By the beginning of May, Colon started to receive meals that she describes as “gourmet salad” with quinoa and tiny “adorable” apples as snacks.
“It’s great,” Colon said. “It’s helped me from having to go to the supermarket too often.”
In a statement, the Department of Sanitation said, “New York City has made a commitment that no New Yorker will go hungry because of this crisis, and we have stood up an enormous operation to get over one million meals per day out to people in need. We take quality concerns very seriously, and anyone who receives an inappropriate delivery can let us know at nyc.gov/getfoodhelp.”
Commissioner Garcia also said, during a press conference last week, that she was asking vendors, “Would you serve this to your grandma?”
Mayor Bill de Blasio has continued to say that there has been an overwhelmingly positive response to the Get Food program. But, if there are any problems, to reach out immediately.
“Anything that’s not quality food, that could mean not nutritious and that could mean food that’s not up-to-date, it’s unacceptable,” he said Monday. “If any vendor, any company is giving us food that is not quality, we’re going to go after them. If anybody in our administration isn’t making sure there’s high-quality food, then they have a problem with me. We’re going to work on this and fix this.”