In its 36 year, Citymeals on Wheels has delivered over 56 million meals to New York's homebound elderly. We chatted with chefs Jonathan Waxman and Larry Forgione about their upcoming Citymeals fundraiser, which gathers some of the best chefs from around the country to raise money for meals.
"You have people in need on the weekend who don't get a hot meal or human contact," Jonathan Waxman tells Food & Wine. "This is something that is very near and dear to all chefs."
Waxman is talking about New York's growing elderly population, a large segment of which have minimal access to food or companionship over the weekends and holidays. The issue of hunger has long galvanized chefs, but the organization Citymeals on Wheels, which feeds the homebound elderly, has a uniquely intimate relationship to the food world.
Founded in 1981 by James Beard and New York magazine restaurant critic Gael Greene, Citymeals has delivered over 56 million meals throughout New York's five boroughs, offering nourishing food and companionship to seniors who wouldn't have had access to either otherwise. Waxman and Larry Forgione, who began throwing annual benefits for the charity in 1985, gather top chefs from around the country for the blowout fundraiser, every penny of which goes towards preparing and delivering meals. (Since its inception, Chefs’ Tribute has raised over $21 million. Last year, the event raised $840,000, and all of it went to feeding homebound New Yorkers.)
"Chefs have a responsibility," says Forgione. "Any group that has any type of success should give back. Citymeals on Wheels is the perfect organization for a chef to be involved with because it actually feeds the homebound."
Waxman says that donating money—as much as possible—is the single most helpful thing anyone can do to help these vulnerable populations.
"Sending as much money as you can is the best thing," says Waxman. "Money, money, money."
Volunteering is helpful, too, as is raising awareness for the cause. "With the advent of social media, speak up about it," he adds. "If you can't be there, send whatever you can." The situation is getting a bit more drastic: Citymeals and anti-hunger organizations across the country are going to need a lot more money to keep up with rapidly increasing demand.
"The elderly population is increasing dramatically," says Waxman. "There’s going to be greater need. The way things are going politically, private funding is unfortunately going to be a big part of the puzzle. It's an uphill battle."
At last year's Chefs' Tribute, Mark Gusinov, Senior Vice President of City National Bank (which was one of the event’s sponsors), spoke to the importance of donations in light of threats to public anti-hunger funding. “Every American deserves food security,” he said. “This is especially critical today, when anti-hunger programs are facing severe funding cuts. Your support helps organizations like Citymeals continue their life-saving operations.”
At the Chefs' Tribute, Waxman will be preparing Maine Lobster rolls with green garlic mayo, lemon, and fresh herbs, and Forgione will make Sonoma-pastured lamb ragout with spring garlic-flint corn polenta. Other chefs cooking at the event will include Rudi Liebenberg, Thomas Seifried, Jacques Torres, Cassidee Dabney, Anthony Gonclaves, Andreas Kisler, Daniel Boulud, Scott Conant, and Charlie Palmer.