Citymeals on Wheels ready for next Sandy with new Bronx warehouse

When superstorm Sandy brought damaging winds and flooding that knocked out power across Manhattan, 90-year-old Mary Petrone thought she’d have to tough out the next few days on her own. Then, there was a knock at the door.

Warren, a delivery volunteer with Citymeals on Wheels, had arrived to make sure Petrone had a hot meal — even if by candlelight. Petrone, a resident of Stuyvesant Town, said Warren returned to deliver food every day for the eight days that she was without power.

“It was terrible. There wasn’t anybody who could get through at the time because we had no electricity, we had no elevators, we had no telephones. We had nothing,” Petrone said of the situation Sandy had left her in. “But thank God, the young man from Citymeals on Wheels came over every day in all that storm with my meal for me.”

As Sandy bore down on the tri-state area, Citymeals on Wheels worked quickly with the help of over 800 volunteers to help feed one of the city’s most vulnerable populations. In all, 63,846 emergency meals were handed out to nearly 10,000 homebound seniors.

“We were lucky prior to Sandy to be proactive and have the warehouse filled to the gills,” Citymeals on Wheels executive director Beth Shapiro said. “We were fully stocked with food, and emptied after Sandy.”

The warehouse, located in Williamsburg across from the Domino Sugar factory development, remained open for 21 days after Sandy in an effort to help elderly New Yorkers who were stuck at home because of storm damage.

But over the last six years, as the neighborhood continued to grow and develop, Shapiro said the need for a larger warehouse space with better access to major roadways in the city became clear.

“Accessibility for our trucks dropping off and picking up became increasingly difficult and we needed to find a new space,” she said.

On Monday, marking six years since Sandy, the nonprofit organization celebrated the debut of its new, 30,000-square-foot warehouse in Hunts Point, the Bronx.

Shapiro said the facility, which replaces the Williamsburg location, not only improves Citymeals on Wheels’ daily operations but also significantly increases its ability to respond to another Sandy-sized storm.

“The new space has allowed us to double the number of packed shelf-stable boxes that we have on hand at all times and to really store enough nonperishable food for about 55,000 additional meals to have on the ready to pack at any time,” she said.

Named the Joan & Bob Tisch Emergency Meal Distribution Center, the warehouse also offers benefits outside of emergency response, including the organization’s ability to better operate its weekend meal program serving a large swath of Bronx communities as well as an expansion of its Mobile Food Pantry.

Citymeals on Wheels delivers about 2 million meals a year to over 18,000 homebound seniors. While most of those meals are prepared in kitchens around the city through partnerships with businesses, about one-third of them are put together by volunteers in the organization’s warehouse.

Shapiro said they decided to name the warehouse after the Tisch family to highlight their commitment to fighting elderly hunger in the city.

“Citymeals is a New York City-based organization and we rely on the goodness of every day New Yorkers both for volunteering and donations,” she said. “We’re honoring their support of Citymeals but also that of so many others who help contribute to what we do.”

The organization also honored some of its recipients, including Petrone, with portraits along the exterior of the new warehouse.