How NYC’s emergency food program is ‘starving people’

The Big Apple has failed in its emergency effort to feed seniors during the coronavirus pandemic — with some not getting meals at all and others, including those who keep Kosher, having dietary restrictions ignored, The Post has learned.

“The city’s food program is actually starving people,” said Michelle Jackson, the executive director of the Human Services Council, which helps organize 170 nonprofit social service groups across the five boroughs. “That’s the reality of the situation.”

The coronavirus pandemic forced the city’s Department for the Aging to scrap its usual program of serving meals to Gotham’s elderly at senior centers in favor of home delivery.

Now, seniors who often struggle with technology must put in an order online or by the phone every 48 hours — and even then the meals don’t come reliably.

“We’ve gotten phone calls from people who say they haven’t gotten their food. We had people tell us they only got a few pieces of bread,” said Wayne Ho, president of the Chinese American Planning Council, which helps over 1,000 seniors daily and has sites in Manhattan’s Chinatown and in Queens’s Flushing neighborhood. “We had people tell us the food they got is not part of their dietary restrictions.”

His clients are reporting frustration after frustration with the system — from struggling with Internet access to the lack of translated materials.

“Most of our seniors don’t know how to go online, some of them don’t speak English. There’s a real lack of translated materials,” he added. “The (program) website has not been translated so they don’t really have access.”

Joe Sanbule, meanwhile, tried to order kosher food for his 86-year-old mother, Raquel, a Holocaust survivor who managed to remain observant as her family fled from Nazi forces in Poland during World War II.

But Monday, she nearly bit into Swedish meatballs drenched in cream sauce after the program sent her a non-kosher meal.

Joe immediately called 311 and told The Post the dispatcher said they’d run out of kosher meals.

“My reaction 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,” he added.

Councilman Chaim Deutsch (D-Brooklyn) said Sanbule’s case was one of several complaints his office has received of observant Jews getting non-kosher meals and that kosher food shortages were the oft-cited explanation.

“It is outrageous that — seven weeks into this crisis — New York City can’t get it right when it comes to feeding those in need,” an outraged Deutsch said. “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,” he added.

City Hall says they’re serving more than 31,000 kosher meals per day.

There have been complaints about the home delivery program since the effort first rolled out as a pilot last month.

But now the program is a cornerstone of the city’s emergency $170 million effort to keep New Yorkers as the coronavirus pandemic shuttered the public schools and community centers.

Despite its mission-critical nature, city officials never consulted the nonprofits that typically provide services to seniors through DFTA, Jackson said, leaving groups she represents with little recourse available even as they’re flooded with complaints from clients.

City Hall promised The Post that improvements to the program that delivers a half-million meals a day are underway.

Beginning this week, seniors will be able to order meals for an entire month at a time.

And, officials have pledged to work more closely with the nonprofits and hire another 100 operators for the 311 service.

“This is an incredible operation, the scale of which is hard to imagine. It involves hundreds of city staff across different agencies, thousands of TLC-licensed drivers, dozens of vendors, and facilities in virtually every neighborhood,” said City Hall spokeswoman Laura Feyer. “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.”

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