Overcoming Isolation and Unexpected Food Insecurity in Montclair, NJ


Montclair, New Jersey—a generally upscale suburb 12 miles west of Manhattan— is home to 39,000 people, 20 percent of whom are age 60 or older. The township joined the  AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities  in 2015. Montclair’s age-friendly effort is called  Lifelong Montclair. 

The Challenge 

“The most pressing issue we’re facing is a rise in food insecurity, which is casting a wider net than is typical in this community,” says Katie York, Director, Montclair Senior Services/Lifelong Montclair. We also know that social isolation is an issue for older residents in our community.” 

The Response 

Lifelong Montclair partnered with a local soup kitchen Toni’s Kitchen to distribute bags of groceries and prepared foods to older residents. This program is not based on financial need, York explains because they want to encourage everyone to stay safely at home during the pandemic. “I refer to the bags as a “Keep-Your-Behind-at-Home”  incentive,” she adds. 

The local chapter of the Kiwanis Club coordinates drivers to distribute the food, and other organizations have donated time and resources.  

Two Volunteers in Montclair, New Jersey
Servings of squash and carrot soup from a local caterer are ready for distribution to local residents.

To overcome social isolation at a time when face-to-face community activities are impossible, age-friendly groups worked to convert classes at the popular Montclair Institute for Lifelong Learning  (the MILL) to Zoom. The Institute’s offerings range from chair yoga and strength training to current events and watercolors.  

 “Employees from the test-prep firm  Manhattan Prep  volunteered their time to train our instructors on how to use Zoom effectively, York says.  The  Montclair Public Library also hosted virtual drop-in sessions to help people become familiar with Zoom. To increase accessibility, all classes are recorded and posted on  YouTube  and, for those without internet access, streamed on the local cable TV channel. 

This story is being shared through the AARP-NLC COVID-19 Older Adult Response Initiative.  Share your story with NLC and AARP here.

The Results, Thus Far 

Food bags are delivered to nearly 500 older residents each week, along with updates on relevant health and community issues. We’ve been leveraging the bags to continue updating residents about relevant news, such as reminding them to complete the 2020 Census,” York says. Despite all of the changes and challenges to MILL classes, we’re seeing a strong turnout,” she adds. Having scheduled class times has been especially beneficial during a time when the days start to blend into one another.” 

A full-length interview is available on AARP.org/Livable at this link.

Response Partners 

  • Toni’s Kitchen 
  • Montclair Kiwanis 
  • Partners for Health Foundation 
  • Antika Grill 
  • Montclair Business Improvement District 
  • Gelati by Mike 
  • Rao’s Homemade/Sovos Brands 
  • The MC Hotel 
  • Volunteer drivers from the community 
  • Montclair Public Library 
  • Manhattan Prep 
  • The Yogi Berra Museum 
  • Garden State Equality 
  • The Montclair Art Museum 

Reporting, writing and editing by AARP (Shoshana Preuss, Melissa Stanton, Jay Walljasper, Mike Watson) 

This story is being shared as part of the AARP-NLC COVID-19 Older Adult Response Initiative.