A coastal city located 60 miles south of Boston, New Bedford, Massachusetts, was world-famous in the 19th century for the fleets of whaling ships sailing out of its port. It is home to about 95,000 people, 15 percent of whom are age 65 or older.
New Bedford joined the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities in 2015. The city’s age-friendly effort is referred to as the Age-Friendly New Bedford or the New Bedford Age-Friendly Collaborative.
Stay-at-home guidelines have made it more difficult for the city’s older residents to access healthy foods. In addition, many of them are socially-isolated, low-income or experience higher than average rates of chronic disease—which makes them more vulnerable to COVID-19.
“Our efforts have focused on ensuring adequate access to nutritious foods,” says Christine Sullivan, Age-Friendly Coordinator, Coastline Elderly Services.
“Our approach to addressing food insecurity has been to build on existing programs as well as creating new ones,” Sullivan explains. Before the onset of COVID-19, approximately 1,000 people were receiving home-delivered meals per week—usually one hot daily meal. Now they are supplementing this with sandwiches and snacks once a week. Older people in most danger of malnutrition have been identified, and they are offered a stockpile of frozen and other less-perishable foods.
This expansion of services is made possible by community food donations along with the recruitment of more drivers—some of whom are paid; some are “borrowed” from the New Bedford Council on Aging, Southcoast EMS and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe; and others are volunteers from the community, AAA Northeast and the Medical Reserve Corps.
Strong community support and partnerships have been instrumental in scaling up needed services—including help from the Southcoast Food Policy Council and the Greater Boston Food Bank.
A local commercial fishing firm donated 4,500 pounds of flounder, and a produce vendor donated 1,000 pounds of kale. Eastern Fisheries provided storage space for large shipments of frozen meat from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Other programs in New Bedford have also expanded to meet increased need, including Meals on Wheels and the Greater New Bedford Community Health Center. The newly-organized Southcoast Community Response Corps matches households needing assistance, such as grocery deliveries, with volunteers who can help. Another new program delivers one hot restaurant meal five days per week to older immigrants, who do not receive traditional Meals on Wheels.
The Results, Thus Far
Home delivery of hot meals increased from 1,437 in January to 1,850 in April, along with distribution of 2,400 shelf-and freezer-stable meals, according to Sullivan. Seven hundred and fifty more meals were added for May, focusing on high-risk clients. Nearly 200 immigrant older adults have benefited from the hot meal delivery program.
- City of New Bedford
- Coastline Elderly Services
- Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts
- New Bedford Council on Aging
- Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe
- Meals on Wheels
- Southcoast Community Response Corp.
- Southcoast EMS
- United Way of Greater New Bedford
This story is being shared through the AARP-NLC COVID-19 Older Adult Response Initiative.
Share your COVID-19 Response focused on older adults with AARP and NLC here
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