A crowd of 350 turned up Wednesday at Citymeals on Wheels’ “Power Lunch” in Manhattan and helped to raise nearly $1.5 million in the process.
MSNBC and NBC News commentator Stephanie Ruhle welcomed guests to the 36th annual event at The Plaza hotel. Another broadcast journalist, Deborah Roberts of ABC News, reminded attendees of the cause by reading a poem “I Am Light” that was written by one of the organization’s 73-year-old meal recipients. The group’s chief executive officer Beth Shapiro said the annual luncheon had exceeded its goal of $1.3 million and was very close to reaching a record high of $1.5 million. To try to gin up that tally, she asked attendees how much they had spent on the shoes they were wearing, before informing them that their donations would help the nonprofit deliver nearly 70,000 meals in the next six weeks.
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This year’s event honored the chairman emerita of the Museum of Arts and Design Barbara Tober, fitness trainer and GQ columnist Joe Holder and global industrial company Standard Industries. Barbara Bush, Derek Blasberg, Huma Abedin, Samantha Boardman, Aby Rosen and Lizzie and Jonathan Tisch were among the attendees.
Accepting the apple-shaped blue glass award from chef Daniel Boulud, Tober clued in the crowd to the organization’s history. Noting how her late lawyer husband Donald was among Citymeals on Wheels’ first board members, Tober said he teamed up with Gael Green and chef James Beard to unleash the organization from being a government-controlled entity to a private one. That marked the first time in New York City that a public philanthropy became a private one, and that started a trend, according to Tober, who is president of The Acronym Fund, which invests in artists and art-related projects. “It is a way of living in America that we invented here in New York City, not so bad,” she said.
Through her volunteerism for Citymeals on Wheels, Tober described how the meal deliveries can uplift recipients. While more reticent recipients will only open their front doors a sliver, others are more welcoming and conversational, she said. “It is a very heartfelt thing to do, but also it makes you realize how scared so many people are of the outside, and of the world in general. We all read the newspapers and see why in a lot of places people feel that way. But we get up in the morning, march off and we do our thing,” she said. “I love the life I have now. I miss my husband intensely. But you get up in the morning, you dust yourself off and you say to yourself, ‘What can I do today to help somebody else? What can I do to advance what I did yesterday?’”
Citymeals on Wheels is of that mindset, always trying to figure out how to make the food fresher, finding new purveyors, sharper prices and better goods, Tober added.
Holder cofounded the System of Service, an initiative that encourages exercising selflessness “as a daily muscle” geared toward his peers and younger people who were confused about how to give back. His efforts have included alleviating more than $1 million in medical debt among the poor, building community gardens and organizing gift and toy drives. While donating money is fine, Holder described it as being “just power being passed through. We have to get back to human connection. That’s all that I’m asking [for],” he said.
Holder emphasized the need for all generations to donate their time to create greater social cohesion. Noting how the voter turnout for last week’s local election in New York City amounted to 8 percent even though the city council oversees a municipal budget of upward of $100 million, Holder said the challenge is not only to strengthen physical health, but also continue to improve our service, acumen and dedication.
Boardman and Lizzie Tisch then saluted Standard Industries for the team’s generosity that has helped thousands of homebound New Yorkers. David Winter and Hamilton South are among the 60 percent of Standard employees who have pitched in helping to package and deliver meals. Tracy MacKenzie accepted the award on behalf of Winter and his co-CEO David Millstone and said that “supporting Citymeals is an important reminder that a small act, a meal, an hour of your time, a check-in or a hello can make a big difference in the lives of our neighbors and the well-being of our city and its people as a whole.”
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