A controversial proposal to dramatically change the City’s Meals-on-Wheels program is in poor taste, according to those fighting the plan.
In 2004 the City implemented a pilot program in The Bronx, called Senior Options, and drastically changed the face of Meals-on-Wheels across the borough. Before the change senior meals were prepared locally by a neighborhood non-profit, and were delivered hot and fresh the same day. Senior Options replaced those fresh meals with a standard issue food from a single provider and removed the local non-profits from the mix altogether, placing deliveries in the hands of larger, centralized organizations.
But the lasting effect of Senior Options has been the introduction of frozen meals to Bronx seniors. Before the changes seniors received a hot meal everyday. Now, they can opt for a hot meal each day or to receive the same meal as part of a frozen delivery twice a week. The Department for the Aging (DFTA), in an effort to modernize senior centers across the five boroughs, is proposing to mimic the Bronx pilot program across the City.
Bronx City Councilman G. Oliver Koppell, a staunch opponent of Senior Options from its inception, is fighting DFTA’s expansion plan. Though concerns have been raised about the actual cost benefits of the frozen meal switch and the critical role that delivery persons play in checking the health and safety of citywide seniors, Koppell is urging his colleagues to reject the plan because the meals, simply put, suck.
In a letter to other City Council members Koppell cites complaints from his constituents regarding the “poor quality of the food” provided by the Long Island-based Whitsons Culinary Group, adding that they have “complained bitterly about the tasteless, salty and generally low quality frozen meals.”
Holly Von Seggern, a spokesperson for Whitson’s, disputed Koppell’s claims, noting that an audit of Senior Options by KPMG found that 87 percent of program participants were happy with their meals. Von Seggern also noted that her company’s frozen meals are more nutritious and offer seniors flexibility in delivery times, allowing them to live their lives.
“Most of the customers are finding that the quality of the food is better,” said Von Seggern, adding that her company is responsive to complaints. “Are we going to please 100 percent of the time? No, but we strive for that.”
Bobbie Sackman, director of public policy of the Council of Senior Center and Services, also questioned the quality of the meals. Local providers, she said, can tailor their cooking to the likes of their communities. A one-size-fits-all meal is inappropriate in The Bronx, and expansion would be a disaster.
“I think the communities have to decide for themselves what kind of food they’re serving, and that’s not what has been happening,” said Sackman.