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Age-Friendly New Bedford, Massachusetts, Responds to COVID-19

A look at how the city is serving and protecting its older residents

A coastal city located 60 miles south of Boston, New Bedford, Massachusetts, is home to about 95,000 people, 15 percent of whom are age 65 or older.

Meals on Many Wheels

An EMS Driver in New Bedford, Massachusetts

Courtesy Coastline Elderly Services

First-responders in New Bedford are helping to distribute meals to the city's older adults and others in need of assistance during the global coronavirus pandemic.

New Bedford joined the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities in 2015. The city's age-friendly effort is referred to as Age Friendly New Bedford.

Community Representative: 

(Information provided to AARP on May 15, 2020)

The Challenge

“Our efforts have focused on ensuring adequate access to nutritious foods. The seniors of New Bedford experience higher than average rates of chronic disease, making them more vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19 exposure. In addition, many are low-income and socially isolated. The stay-at-home guidelines have left this population without the means to acquire healthful foods. We’ve been able to address the challenge with the strong support of our civic and community leaders."

The Response

“Our approach to address food insecurity has been to build on existing programs and create new ones. Before the onset of COVID-19, we were serving home-delivered meals to approximately 1,000 clients per week. Almost all received one hot daily meal, but some received breakfast and weekend meals as well. We’ve worked to expand this service and deliver additional food in the form of a sandwich or snack once per week.

“We also identified the seniors most vulnerable to malnutrition and hunger and helped them build a stockpile of frozen and shelf-stable meals. This quick increase in service was made possible with community assistance in the deliveries and food donations. Deliveries have been facilitated with the use of paid staff drivers; ‘borrowed’ staff drivers from the New Bedford Council on Aging, Southcoast EMS and the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe; and volunteer drivers from the community, AAA Northeast and the Medical Reserve Corps

The Focus Areas

“Community support and partnerships — with the Southcoast Food Policy Council, the Greater Boston Food Bank and others — have helped us scale up our service and distribute food donations, including thousands of pounds of flounder from a commercial fish company and hundreds of pounds of kale from a local food vendor. Eastern Fisheries has helped us store our frozen meals and will store the 70 boxes of frozen meats we're expecting from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The Meals on Wheels program also increased its service as community members volunteered to drive and staff a mobile produce market. A grant enabled the program to provide Ensure nutritional beverages for those in need in addition to regular meals. Other existing programs and mobile food markets, such as at the Greater New Bedford Community Health Center, have rearranged service approaches through volunteer support and information sharing.

Response Partners

"The Southcoast Community Response Corps is among the newly created programs supporting our community. Created by local residents, including many age-friendly partners, the program connects people with the assistance they need. Residents who request a grocery delivery service are matched with volunteers who can help. Other new programs include a grant-funded hot meals program so immigrant older adults, most of whom don’t receive traditional Meals on Wheels services, can receive one hot meal daily from a local restaurant. Existing partnerships have facilitated the rapid development of new programs to match the increasing needs of the older adult community."

The Results, Thus Far

"The partners of the New Bedford Age-Friendly Collaborative have always recognized the importance of good nutrition and access to healthful foods. As a result, several programs were uniquely positioned to respond to the threats of hunger and malnutrition introduced during the COVID-19 crisis.

"In a short time we increased our home delivery meal program from 1,437 meals in January to 1,850 in April and distributed an additional 2,400 shelf- and freezer-stable meals. An additional 750 meals will be sent out in mid-May with a focus on high-risk clients.

"While every client receives two frozen meals, high-risk clients will receive 10 frozen meals. Cases of Ensure liquid nutrition will be available for high-risk seniors. More than 300 cases of Ensure have already been distributed through Meals on Wheels. Nearly 200 immigrant older adults have benefited from the hot meals delivery program.

“Altogether, the biggest achievement so far has been our ability to continue daily meal services without interruption while also boosting the supply of nutritious foods in the most vulnerable households.”


A Shuttle Van Driver in New Bedford, Massachusetts

Courtesy Coastline Elderly Services

The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is among the local partners that are deploying drivers and vehicles to help with New Bedford's response to COVID-19.


Research by Shosanna Preuss  | Article published May 2020

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