When it became apparent early last month that the coronavirus was going to cause a major upheaval to everyday life, disrupting even routine tasks like grocery shopping, Cynthia Ward Capalbo had a disquieting thought.
“I kept thinking about the older people and how were they going to get food?” she said.
Ms. Capalbo went to Facebook, where she established a new group, Sag Harbor Helpers, and solicited aid, in the form of donations to buy food, and volunteers to cook meals, for those unable to provide for themselves.
The outpouring has been overwhelming, Ms. Capalbo said. Since launching the effort less than a month ago, she has received more than $3,000 in donations as well as gifts of food from Round Swamp Farm, which contributed to the cause as part of its own recent food drive; Tate’s Bakery and Grindstone Coffee and Donuts.
But the heart of the operation is a group of about 25 people who have volunteered to cook a couple extra meals a week for delivery to people who are unable get out to the store themselves.
Meals are prepared on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and no single volunteer is asked to cook for more than one or two recipients at a time. Each time a volunteer cooks, they prepare two meals for each person at the home, she said.
Ms. Capalbo, who owns C’s Home and Office Management, works with a spread sheet and asks volunteers to commit for two or three weeks. “Some have cooked three days a week, some two days, and some one day,” she said. “And it’s not the same people every day.”
In most cases, the cooks deliver the food they make and are required to wear masks and gloves and instructed to leave the food on the doorstep to help stop the spread of the contagion, Ms. Capalbo said, while the recipients are told to look out for someone dropping off their meals.
Special efforts are made to meet dietary restrictions for those who are on, say, a low-salt diet, suffer from the Alpha gal meat allergy, or, who cannot eat meat for religious reasons, such as Catholics during Lent.
Because the operation is so small-scale at this point, Ms. Capalbo said she simply reimburses cooks for the food they purchase from the money she receives in donations. The Teachers Association of Sag Harbor has also donated money to set up an account at Cromer’s Market in Noyac, and another one has been established at Schiavoni’s IGA in Sag Harbor, where designated members of the group can buy food for the effort.
Besides the nutrition the home-cooked meals provide, the program offers something else that might be more valuable, Ms. Capalbo said: a new sense of community.
The recipients of the generosity have been thrilled. “I’ve had a lot of them say, ‘Thank you, you don’t know how much this means to me,’” Ms. Capalbo said, adding that in one case, volunteers staged an impromptu, and appropriately social-distanced, birthday party for a 95-year-old.
Ms. Capalbo said the effort would continue as long as there was a need. For now, she is planning to talk to her accountant to see if the organization should establish itself as a nonprofit and whether it should continue after the pandemic ends to supplement the efforts of organizations like the Sag Harbor food pantry and Southampton Town nutritional services.
“I would love to sit down at some point to figure out if there is a way to have a community organization set that can make sure our elderly get regular meals,” she said.
She thinks that is possible, pointing out that more than 250 people have already joined the Facebook group.
“Maybe we all needed this break,” she said of the shutdown caused by the pandemic. “It’s going to teach us lessons on lots of different levels.”