It’s 8:30 in the morning, an early start at Dreesen’s Catering in East Hampton. Nevertheless, Frank Eipper is packing apples and sandwiches into color-coded, insulated boxes.
Over at the Hampton Bays Senior Center, on a different day, it’s 1:30 in the afternoon. Despite strong winds and light rain, Vivian Miles has just returned from a delivery run and is relieved to be off the road.
Mr. Eipper and Ms. Miles represent the beginning and the end of the process of what Meals on Wheels does: delivering both hot and cold food to elderly and home-bound residents of the East End.
Mr. Eipper has been president of the East Hampton Meals on Wheels for four years, packing lunches at the kitchen of Dreesen’s, while the organization’s two part-time employees handle administrative work at 33 Newtown Lane. Meals for 30 residents are delivered along seven routes to homes in Wainscott, Springs, Amagansett, Montauk, East Hampton Village and Sag Harbor.
East Hampton Meals on Wheels has 40 to 45 volunteers who take shifts throughout the week, with nine volunteers needed per day: two to pack up the meals, and seven to deliver them. Cold lunches and hot lunches are prepared from 9:30 to 10 a.m., with drivers starting delivery rounds in their own cars at around 10:30 a.m.
Recent comments from President Donald Trump’s budget chief, Mick Mulvaney, indicating that the administration was considering cutting funding to national Meals on Wheels programs have generated concern. But Mr. Eipper said the East Hampton Meals on Wheels program is funded entirely through private donations—with assistance from East Hampton Town, in the form of a $10,000 grant.
“They realized that we’re sort of a stop-gap for their social service department, because they do a lot of work on the social services side,” Mr. Eipper said of town officials. “They have people who need social welfare help, but they don’t have the facilities to deliver stuff directly to these homebound people. That’s the key to our service.”
The Hampton Bays Senior Center, meanwhile, is one of four provided by the Town of Southampton’s Department of Senior Services, including one on the Shinnecock Reservation, one in Bridgehampton, and the David W. Crohan Community Center in Flanders, which is named after one of the first Meals on Wheels drivers for the town.
According to Liz Dwyer, director of senior services for the town, three drivers use mini-buses to pick up meals at the Hampton Bays center and transport them to residents living between the Stony Brook Southampton campus in Shinnecock Hills and the eastern town line in Sagaponack, and as far west as Westhampton. Ms. Miles said her run to Flanders takes about three hours to deliver between 50 and 54 meals.
Funding for the Southampton Town Senior Service Meals on Wheels program comes from a different federal program than the one for which cuts are being contemplated, said Ms. Miles, who expressed concern nonetheless. “Seniors really need this program,” she said. “I can’t imagine them not having it, with the joy they get from us delivering to them.
“It makes me feel worried,” Ms. Dwyer said. “Not only does the program provide nutrition, it’s also a safety check. It brings human contact into isolation. I think it has a lot of value.”
She said some of the people she delivers to are very talkative, some are sad, and others don’t speak much at all. Ms. Miles tries to take at least three minutes to talk with each client, while also staying on schedule with her deliveries.
“It was very interesting at first,” she said. “Everybody’s different. I’m the only face that some see. Some seniors I go to have a lot to say and they ask me, ‘Have a seat, have some coffee.’
“They laugh—they’re all funny,” she continued. “Some are sad, but they’re all happy to see me. One stands out over the sink and watches me come into her driveway.”
Ms. Dwyer added, “Some of these people are very much on the fringe, for a lot of reasons. It’s a matter of getting the word out that these services exist. The thing is, you’re not really tuned into this unless you have a family member or you have a need for them.”
In East Hampton, one grateful client is Anastasia Bennett, a 93-year-old resident who receives her deliveries from Bill and Todd Jackson.
“I enjoy the company,” Ms. Bennett said. “I feel bad sometimes, because the weather can get so hard.” She added, “They’re doing God’s work.”