‘We don’t want people to feel lonely’: Senior Centers still feeding their members

Center on the Square Director Laura Marceca distributing the City Meals emergency food box to center members. (Photos by Tequila Minsky)


Updated March 17, 2020, 11:00 a.m. “This is a huge change,” Judy Levin, Director of Senior Center Services at Greenwich House, immediately pointed out.

It was the middle of the first very hectic day when the Greenwich House Senior Centers were closed, as are many other institutions where New Yorkers congregate in numbers, all in an effort to limit social contact where the COVID-19 virus might be spread.

However, these New Yorkers are all over the age of 60.

The centers offer lunch and a wide array of classes, providing for body and soul of New York seniors and now staff are working on how to best serve members under the circumstances.

Seniors waiting to receive grab-and-go lunch from the center on Washington Square North.
Seniors, waiting to receive grab-and-go lunch from the center on Washington Square North, were let in two at a time to collect their lunch.

“The first priority was organizing the grab-and-go lunch program, since lunch is such a substantial part of the centers’ services,” said Levin. 

On this first day of a closed center, a sunny yet chilly Monday, seniors lined up outside of 20 Washington Square North for their grab-and-go hot meal (chicken or vegetarian option—tofu). All city senior centers also received a one-time box of non-perishable staples, an emergency meal, supplied by City Meals and given out on Monday.

Carrying the emergency City Meals food allocation.
Judy Levin, Director of Senior Center Services at Greenwich House, chats with a center member outside of the building.
Waiting in line on Washington Square North to pick up lunch.
Contents of emergency food supply provided by City Meals.

Seniors were let into the center at 20 Washington Square North in twos for their food pick-up. 

“We served 85 lunches today,” said Center on the Square Director Laura Marceca, happy that all went smoothly, “and all the City Meals boxes were distributed.  We will be providing lunches between 12-2, Monday through Friday.”

There are four Greenwich House center locations in Greenwich Village and Tribeca. Grab-and-go lunches for members are also being distributed from 12-2pm in the lobby of the Judith White Center, Barrow Street, from the landing at Our Lady of Pompeii Center, and March 23 will begin in the Independence Plaza location, from 12:00-1:30pm. Collectively, Greenwich House Senior Centers serve lunch to 355 to 400 at the four locations.

During the course of the year, hundreds of seniors also participate in the four centers’ arts and culture and health and wellness activities: from film screenings, to Italian, Shakespeare and art workshops to yoga, dance and peer group discussions. Members also use the social work services.

In this regard, the support services of Greenwich House are moving into action. Case Assistance Services will be available primarily via phone and the social worker, checking voicemail, will promptly return calls, responding to questions and concerns. 

A phone bank comprised of center directors, assistants, and case assistance staff will make regular calls to members who they have not seen at the grab and go pick up for at least one week. They will also develop a plan for meal home delivery for those in need.

Also, the Senior Health and Consultation Center staff will be available by phone to speak with members in need of additional support related to the stress and trauma of the COVID-19 crisis.

“We’re looking into virtual classes, on-line learning, telephone conferences and classes,” Marceca said. “We want people to keep socializing, even if it’s virtual.  We don’t want people to feel lonely.”

“Everything went well today,” said this very adaptive director.  “We want to make sure everybody has what they need. We want to make sure everybody has sufficient meals and as much social contact as possible,” she continued, adding, “We wish we could do more.”

Maggie Dehoyos is visiting her father, David Stock, from Seattle and accompanied him to the center for food pickup. “This organization is fabulous,” she said. Stock attends the Shakespeare class that just finished reading Merchant of Venice.
Outside of Center on the Square Senior Center, about to pick up lunch and City Meals box.
Loretta usually dishes out the hot food, now helping to distribute the hot grab-and-go meal.
Receiving a City Meals emergency food box in addition to a hot meal for lunch.
Getting ready to carry the City Meals box plus the grab-and-go meal home.