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Meals on Wheels aims to expand its services in New Cassel

Donald Wiessner, 87, of Westbury receives a Meals

Donald Wiessner, 87, of Westbury receives a Meals on Wheels delivery from local volunteer Ann Mandaro on Wednesday April 6, 2016. The group is looking to expand its offerings in New Cassel Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

Meals on Wheels is rolling into New Cassel, a community where residents have long complained of poor access to affordable food.

The expansion of existing services comes as providers of the program, which delivers free meals to seniors with limited mobility, say the area is underserved.

About 185 people currently are served by the program in New Cassel, and neighboring Westbury and Carle Place, through a contract with the EAC Network, a Hempstead nonprofit that coordinates Meals on Wheels on a local level. The group has increased marketing efforts to attract more residents of those communities — among more than 1,200 seniors served in the Town of North Hempstead.

“So many people, especially the isolated older person, aren’t getting out,” said Carol O’Neill, senior director of senior and nutrition services for the EAC Network. “There really aren’t that many places where people can go to purchase food. A lot of people, especially older people, are on a limited budget.”

Residents have long advocated for more grocery stores within walking distance of the hamlet’s main thoroughfare, Prospect Avenue. The community’s first full-service supermarket, the Ideal Food Basket, opened in 2013.

O’Neill said the program does not accept applicants “based on their income,” but rather on their “inability to shop and cook for themselves, and not have a family member to do something for them.”

In New Cassel, with 14,000 residents, nearly 18 percent of residents live below the federal poverty designation.

North Hempstead Councilwoman Viviana Russell said that before the supermarket opened in New Cassel, “if you didn’t drive, you had to take a taxi cab to one of the surrounding areas.” She added that the Meals on Wheels effort is also important to neighboring Carle Place after the recent closure of a Waldbaum’s store — one of several on Long Island that closed after A&P, the parent company, filed for bankruptcy protection.

By publishing promotional materials in Spanish, Meals on Wheels organizers are working to reach members of the Hispanic community, who make up nearly half of New Cassel’s and a quarter of Westbury Village’s populations, according to 2013 U.S. Census data.

Students at Hofstra University have partnered with the nonprofit to publicize the program, said Gregory M. Maney, director of the university’s Community Partnerships at the Center for Civic Engagement.

About 5,000 organizations administer the Meals on Wheels program throughout the country, serving more than 2.4 million seniors. It was established in 1954.

EAC Network officials note that while they served 185 seniors in the Carle Place, Westbury and New Cassel areas last year, those residents received 30,000 meals, many more than members of other communities. The other roughly 1,000 residents in North Hempstead served by the nonprofit received about 6,000 meals, meaning there is “clearly a much larger need for Meals on Wheels and outreach in” those three communities, said Cassandra Huneke, a special events coordinator for EAC Network.

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