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A NYC Volunteer Experience: Feeding Homebound Seniors in East Harlem

Taking the 6 train to 110th and Lexington, then walking to 114th and 1st, I reached Union Settlement Jefferson Senior Center in East Harlem. 

The 11-minute long walk was one of the most beautiful I’ve had in NYC. In East Harlem, every single corner is decorated with a beautiful mural. The neighborhood itself reminded me that there are parts of New York that keep you grounded rather than pull your gaze upward towards skyscrapers.

A Warm, Organized Volunteer Experience in NYC

When I reached the center and stepped in from the cold outside, I immediately sensed the warmth of the place. Warmth here does not necessarily refer to the temperature, but rather to the temperament of the people. The room was full of welcoming gestures and smiles. It gave off the sense that the people working and volunteering there have been coming for a while, from all different walks of life.

This tangible dedication also explains why the experience was as organized as it was. Not only was there a very clear schedule and list of tasks to be followed, but as a team, everyone helped each other to keep up.

What to Expect When Volunteering at Union Settlement

This particular volunteer experience can be booked on Volunteers sign up to prepare and deliver food to Union Settlement’s beneficiaries — homebound seniors in East Harlem — through a program called “Meals on Wheels.”

What we did:

  1. The first activity of my volunteer experience was packaging the cold plates. Going down an assembly line, each of the volunteers picked up a carton of milk, juice, a piece of bread, and a banana. These were placed in plastic bags for safe keeping.

  2. In the second station, we prepared the hot plates. These plates are made up of a piece of seasoned turkey, some collard greens, and sweet potatoes. The meal was sealed and put in a heat sustaining container.

This whole experience is guided by a certain rhythm that made me realize I was now a component of a well-oiled do-good machine.

Tony: A Model Volunteer

During this whole preparation I was especially moved by a fellow volunteer named Tony.

Tony, a Vietnam Veteran who lost his leg in the war, was moving faster than anyone. One second, he was helping with the cold plates. Another, and he was moving containers and packaging hot plates. He was everywhere at all times, being one big help and inspiration.

Tony has been living in the Jefferson Senior Center for the past twenty years. He has to walk up six flights of stairs to reach his apartment, so whenever he comes down, he stays down until the end of the day. He spends these days volunteering with Union Settlement, helping out in whatever they might need.

Tony didn’t want to be “another statistic,” and so, developed an approach I will hold close to me:

Don’t give up on life no matter how hard it gets.

After an enlightening conversation with him, I, along with two other volunteers, was assigned a route with 46 stops.

Delivering “Meals on Wheels” in NYC

I can’t explain the feeling that comes with firmly knocking on a door and knowing with the confidence that you’re about to change somebody’s day, but that is just what Union Settlement’s “Meals on Wheels” program gives its volunteers.

That particular day, I saw a variety of seniors, as well as their houses, apartments, and centers. The whole experience restored my faith not only in humanity but more specifically in NYC. It was good to know that growing old in NYC doesn’t mean you’re left with no options.

A Heart-warming Volunteer Experience

Not to be cheesy, but I truly felt different by the end of this experience with Union Settlement. It left me feeling more appreciative and optimistic. I was reminded that we should not only count our blessings, but share them as well.

I hope to knock on doors and hand out food again in no time.


This experience is perfect for team building and corporate social responsibility activities. Participating in something like this will help you bond with coworkers as you work together to navigate and serve East Harlem. It benefits your company and the community!

Rally your team to join me, Tony, and other volunteers! Get in touch at and feel the difference doing good can make.


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