Drastic Efforts Implemented to Aid the Elderly During Coronavirus Chaos

Packing food deliveries for the elderly in New York City.
Thousands of pre-packaged meals are being boxed for the elderly.Citymeals on Wheels

Efforts to reach senior citizens, the highest-risk group for the coronavirus, are drastically amping up.

In the nation's most populous city, drastic measures are being taken to aid senior citizens, the most vulnerable population for contracting the coronavirus.

A state of emergency was declared last week in New York City as the number of cases skyrocketed.

Since then, agencies that deal with the elderly have been working around the clock and increasing efforts to feed and visit home-bound older folks by a much as 100%.

"This is an unprecedented emergency," Beth Shapiro, executive director of Citymeals on Wheels, told InsideEdition.com. "Seniors in general are the most vulnerable population right now."

In normal times, the nonprofit group provides about 2 million weekend, holiday and emergency meals to home-bound seniors in the city, she said. But in the coming weeks, she expects her workers and volunteers to disperse 50 percent of that annual amount during the ongoing crisis.

"We are doing our best to make sure every senior citizen who needs food, gets it," Shapiro said.

An estimated 20% of the city's 8.7 million residents are age 60 or older, according to officials.

The group's core mission is to serve "the frailest of the older population who are unable to get out and shop for food. Most of them live alone and some have no one to talk to except the people who deliver their food," she said. 

Packages containing enough nonperishable food for three meals, including items such as rice, tuna, apple sauce and quinoa, are being rapidly assembled at a warehouse in the Bronx for distribution across the city.

More than 145,000 emergency meals have been boxed in the past few days, she said.

"It's a time for everyone to think about their neighbors and those who can't get out," Shapiro advised. "It's critical to make sure that home-bound seniors" are checked on.

Retail stores have also chipped in, with local chains such as Stop & Shop and Morton Williams offering seniors only hours early in the day so elderly residents may buy food while limiting their exposure to the virus.

Part of the New York emergency order closed senior citizen centers, where the elderly were offered hot meals and social activities. Those facilities are now open for certain periods a day to offer take-away meals.

Some 300 to 400 elderly residents visited three Open Door Senior Centers in the city run by the Chinese-American Planning Council, said President and CEO Wayne Ho.

The establishments, two in Chinatown and one in Queens, are currently operating only to hand out hot meals early in the day. "We give them generous portions," Ho told InsideEdition.com. For many, that is their only hot meal of the day, he said.

Like Citymeals, the nonprofit has been bleeding money in ramping up services. Both groups are asking for donations to help fund their severely increased deliveries. 

The Chinese population in the city has been severely hard hit, he said, because of discrimination and misinformation. 

Many in the community were receiving inaccurate information on the popular WeChat Chinese multi-purpose messaging, social media and mobile payment app, Ho said. Social media has been rife with racist rants blaming people of Chinese descent for spreading the virus, which has crippled daily life in China.

"There was a lot of fear," Ho said.

His staff is working around the clock to perform wellness checks on the community's elderly members, he said. "We have several staff that hit the phones to check on them every day," Ho said. His work day now ends about 1 a.m. and begins again at 6 a.m.

"People are scared," he said. Times such as these "either bring out the best in people or the worst in people and unfortunately this has sometimes brought out the worst in people against the Chinese population."

Financial donations can be made to the Chinese-American Planning Council here, and to Citymeals on their website here.