Some New York City seniors who signed up for the city’s free home-delivered kosher meals received non-kosher food, Councilman Chaim Deutsch told Hamodia.
As the coronavirus pandemic has swept across the city, it has devastated the economy and left many people homebound – particularly seniors, who are most vulnerable to the virus. To ensure that the elderly are properly fed without leaving their home, the city is using TLC-licensed drivers to home-deliver free meals to seniors, with a kosher option.
But some Jewish residents told Deutsch’s office that they received non-kosher meals. When they complained, the city said it had run out of kosher meals.
“It is outrageous,” Deutsch said, “that — seven weeks into this crisis — New York City can’t get it right when it comes to feeding those in need. If the city can’t be bothered to serve food that observes dietary restrictions, then they should offer vouchers, and let folks order food themselves. It’s a lot of mess-ups, one right after another.”
In response to a request for comment from Hamodia, City Hall spokeswoman Laura Feyer said that the city is delivering over 30,000 kosher meals daily, for a total of more than 330,000 kosher meals; and more than 3 million meals overall.
“This is an incredible operation, the scale of which is hard to imagine,” Feyer said. “It involves hundreds of city staff across different agencies, thousands of TLC-licensed drivers, dozens of vendors, and facilities in virtually every neighborhood. We will continue to address any issues that members of the public may raise while evaluating and re-evaluating every aspect of this major undertaking.”
The New York Post reported Tuesday that Raquel Sanbule, a Holocaust survivor who had requested a kosher meal, was delivered a non-kosher meal of Swedish meatballs in cream sauce. When her son Joe called 311, the dispatcher said that the kosher meals had run out.
“My reaction,” Joe told The Post, “was disbelief that a lady who was 86 who did not eat non-kosher during the war almost ate non-kosher here in New York City.”
Asked for comment by Hamodia, Feyer said, “We corrected this mistake immediately and delivered kosher meals to this New Yorker today. To be clear, it is not our policy to send non-kosher food to someone who requests kosher meals due to availability constraints. We may send non-kosher food if the recipient confirms they are okay with this substitute, which clearly was not the case here and we have corrected it.”
Meanwhile, the city Education department announced that starting Wednesday, it is opening new locations in Williamsburg and Crown Heights for distribution of its free kosher “Grab & Go” meals for people of all ages.
The new Williamsburg location is at 300 Willoughby Avenue, in addition to the two current Williamsburg locations, at 60 Cook Street and 320 Manhattan Avenue. In Crown Heights, meals will be distributed at 791 Empire Boulevard, in addition to the existing location at 900 St. Marks Avenue. Another existing Crown Heights location, 655 Parkside Ave., will be discontinued, as it is far from the Jewish neighborhood and had been little-used. The new locations in Crown Heights and Williamsburg are more centrally located to the Jewish neighborhoods than the others.
“The kosher Grab & Go meals program is saving lives,” Rabbi Yaacov Behrman, a Crown Heights community activist who serves on Community Board 9, told Hamodia on Tuesday. “We appreciate the members of the de Blasio administration and elected officials who have worked to get this program up and running, and we are committed to working together to continually improve it.”
As the coronavirus pandemic has caused severe financial distress to many New Yorkers, the city Department of Education has been distributing three free “Grab & Go” meals every day at public schools, to New Yorkers of all ages. The kosher sites were first added to the program last week.
The kosher-meal rollout was initially plagued by problems, from reports of food being delivered late to an inadequate supply of meals.
But the city quickly said it would double the number of meals purchased. Councilman Chaim Deutsch’s office told Hamodia on Tuesday that while many constituents had complained of problems last week, there were few negative reports this week.
There had also been complaints that the kosher locations in Williamsburg, Crown Heights and Central Queens were not as close to the Jewish neighborhoods as some other public schools in the area. The new locations in Williamsburg and Crown Heights attempt to address that issue.
In a statement to Hamodia on Tuesday, Education Department spokesman Nathaniel Styer said the department is “proud to have served well over 50,000 kosher meals at Meal Hubs across the city, which were launched based on community input on how to meet the needs of Jewish communities facing food insecurity. Over the first week of this program, we worked with our kosher supplier to quickly add daily supply, and ensure that we have even more sites open this week.”
Below is a full list of the kosher Grab & Go food sites. People of any age can pick up three daily meals at once, with no registration or ID required. Parents and guardians may pick up meals for their children. Meals will be available for children and families from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., and for adults from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
P.S. 192 – 4715 18 Avenue
P.S. 160 – 5105 Fort Hamilton Parkway
P.S. 154 – 75-02 162 Street
P.S. 164 – 138-01 77 Avenue
P.S. 221 – 791 Empire Boulevard
P.S. 289 – 900 St Marks Avenue
P.S. 197 – 825 Hicksville Road
P.S. 253 – 1307 Central Avenue
P.S. 197 – 1599 East 22 Street
P.S. 54 – 1060 Willowbrook Road
I.S. 117 – 300 Willoughby Avenue
P.S. 257 – 60 Cook Street
P.S. 132 – 320 Manhattan Avenue