Justine Samuel: Food Delivery and Friendship Get Her Through a Hard Time
By Henry Street Settlement
Above: Teams of volunteers fan out across the Lower East Side, delivering groceries to seniors and others who must stay home to stay healthy. Photo by Marc Goldberg.
When Justine Samuel, 59, first learned about the impending coronavirus pandemic, her mind started racing: How would she get groceries and make meals if she had to self-isolate to protect her health; if neither her home health aide nor her adult twin daughters could come to her home?
A resident of the Vladeck Houses for almost 20 years, Justine once worked as a teacher’s aide, but a number of health problems sidelined her career. Unable to stand up at the stove or shop alone, she has relied for a handful of years on her aide and family to help her get groceries and to cook for her.
When it became clear that Justine would have to stay home to stay healthy, she couldn’t believe her ears. “At first I said, ‘We’re New Yorkers. We’re not used to this. What am I gonna do?”
Above: With her home health aide and daughters unable to come to her home, Justine Samuel receives hand-delivered groceries through Henry Street’s new Food Access Initiative, started in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Photo by Marc Goldberg.
But, Justine has been a member of Henry Street’s Senior Center for seven years. She reached out to the center even before the staff was able to get to her. “I didn’t know where to turn, what to do,” she says. Henry Street’s Senior Services department immediately connected Justine with a constellation of services that enable her to stay safely at home.
First, she was deemed eligible to receive Meals on Wheels deliveries through Henry Street’s longstanding program. In addition, to supplement those meals, she is receiving bagged groceries through an emergency food access initiative started in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis to reach people who had been specifically isolated by the pandemic. Those groceries are delivered by a team of volunteers—Joel Rust and Jonah Davidson—who come every week, pulling a grocery cart several blocks from the Senior Center pantry bearing several bags of groceries and meals. They knock hard on the door and then step away to ensure distancing when Justine comes to open it. Justine is also receiving regular check-in phone calls from Jenna Bliss, a volunteer—part of a large senior phone calling program that was launched immediately after the pandemic struck.
“It’s been great,” she says. “I’ve been more comfortable. I can put things in the microwave. It’s so much less overwhelming not to worry and think about how you’ll stand up and cook when you’re not well. They’ve been such a great help. I really, really appreciate it.
What is more, Justine likes all of the food! “I just add my special Sazon” substitute salt, she says.
Before the coronavirus crisis hit, Justine was determined not to let her disabilities get in the way of her enjoyment of life. She accompanied her attendant, using her walker, on grocery trips. She took Access-a-Ride to the beach with her family or to watch fireworks. And, she was a regular participant in exercise classes at the Senior Center.
In place of those classes, Justine is now lift two-pound weights to stay in shape and “keep the blood circulating.” When Jenna, the Henry Street volunteer, calls her every week to check in, “We talk about how I’m doing, how’s the food, how’s my health. I tell her everything’s been great with my church. I’m glad I have other seniors’ numbers and they have mine so we can support each other and keep each other from being depressed and sad.”
The COVID-19 crisis has brought the “senior ladies” closer—they have been regularly connecting by phone and checking up on each other. “The friendship-hood is a nice thing. We’re close. We show care for each other, we try to motivate each other,” Justine says.” “One senior is by herself. I tell her she can sew, look at her favorite movies, listen to music, and dance.”
As for Justine, she watches the mayor and governor on TV, catches Tyler Perry movies, and looks forward to regular check-in calls from Pastor Joe Maldonado a great source of support. She regularly calls a friend in South Carolina who is 81, and she even sewed herself a mask.
Overall, Justine says, “It’s been sad, but when I talk to my family I try to make the best of it. I’m so glad just to hear their voices. It’s comforting.”
Her four grandchildren, ranging in age from 2 to 16, are very happy, she says. “They’ve got a good mom and a good family. We have to keep positive even though it’s hard and we get a little sad. But we motivate each other.”
“COVID was a shock to all of us. We didn’t expect a plague to come on so unexpectedly in the midst of our exciting life in New York—for us to shut down and stay home, it was really something. I look forward to getting back to all the excitement!”
Photos by Marc Goldberg.