Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Bush Honored by Citymeals on Wheels

Citymeals on Wheels had no shortage of supporters at Thursday afternoon’s 35th annual “Power Lunch” at The Plaza.

Varying levels of forces from the fields of finance, fashion, tech, media, the arts, entertainment and government turned up at the event. The organization saluted longtime volunteers Barbara Pierce Bush and Jenna Bush Hager. Several of the latter’s NBC colleagues were on hand including her “Today” show cohost Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie. MSNBC host and NBC News senior business analyst Stephanie Ruhle kept the program rolling at a swift pace as emcee. ABC News also had a strong showing, thanks to Deborah Roberts, Linsey Davis and “20/20” executive producer Janice Johnston and other team members. Actress Sienna Miller, Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCullough and Lazaro Hernandez, Carolina Herrera’s creative director Wes Gordon and Moda Operandi’s Lauren Santo Domingo helped to represent the fashion sector.

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The event also paid tribute to the organization’s cofounder and revered restaurant critic Gael Greene, who died Nov 1. She and board member Joan Weil first cooked up the idea for the power lunch in 1986 as a spoof of the power breakfast, which was popular with male business executives in the high-flying ’80s.

during the Citymeals 35th Annual Power Lunch November 17, 2022 at The Plaza in New York City. (Eric Vitale/Citymeals)
Sienna Miller

Dressed in a vibrant orange power suit, Roberts was among the event chairs, as were Lizzie Tisch, Derek Blasberg, Samantha Boardman and Margo M. Nederlander. Nearing the end of its 40th year, Citymeals is the largest nonprofit meals on wheels program nationwide.

As a friend of the sisters for 18 years, Blasberg touched upon kegstands and other faded times before trumpeting the former first daughters’ careers — Hager taught elementary school in Washington, D.C., volunteered for UNICEF in Latin America, penned a few books and first joined the “Today” show in 2009. Her sister, who is older by one minute, first worked at the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum before cofounding the nonprofit Global Health Corps that fights for global health equity. She served as chief executive officer for the group’s first nine years and earned a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School.

during the Citymeals 35th Annual Power Lunch November 17, 2022 at The Plaza in New York City. (Eric Vitale/Citymeals)
Derek Blasberg and Barbara Bush

Blasberg also clued in the crowd to her next career move — joining the National Basketball Association’s vice president of social responsibility. Having first met her at a Yale-Harvard tailgate party, Blasberg said, “From football at Yale to the world’s largest basketball league, who knew Barbara was so sporty?”

Striking a more serious tone, Blasberg noted how his late uncle had been housebound for the last 15 years of his life and his family started supporting Citymeals on Wheels following his death. In turn, Hager said she and her sister have always known how lucky they are, not only because they never have to worry about where their meals were coming from or who was going to tuck them in at night, but mainly because “we had each other.”

The pair have been hand-in-hand for years whether that be as children walking into new schools for the first time or walking onto the very unforgiving marble steps of the U.S. Capitol in high heels for the first time. “I remember my grandfather [former president George H.W. Bush Sr.] whispered, ‘They look like deer on ice.’ I thought we looked very chic. The ‘Freshman 15’ didn’t do much, right Derek?” Hager said. “Having a twin made me braver than I ever thought [possible]. Barbara has always made me feel like I’m enough. She has been my constant companion….Having her has been the one beautiful constant in a wild life and not everyone gets that constant.”

Her sister recalled how as five-year-olds they would be buckled into the backseat of their father’s car to help deliver meals to the elderly in Midland, Texas. Describing ringing the doorbell of those homes, Bush said, “As little kids, we got to see the power of connection and community. Though we gave up the dusty roads of rural Texas for the skyscrapers of New York, we are delighted to be introduced to Citymeals by Derek. Citymeals is providing this constant, which Jenna mentioned that we have for each other, to so many other neighbors.” She added that volunteers often provide the only daily human interaction to recipients.

Bloomberg was also honored for its volunteering and decades of financial support that has allowed Citymeals to deliver more than 1 million meals. The company’s head of corporate philanthropy for the Americas Nancy Cutler mentioned how Bloomberg employees have been supporting local food banks and helping to fight food insecurity globally. Last year alone, the company donated 1.4 million meals through nonprofit partners including 14,000 emergency ones through Citymeals.

Winding down Thursday’s luncheon, executive director Beth Shapiro reminded guests of the challenges that await in the road ahead: New York City’s older adult population and the number of those in need are increasing. (Earlier in the program, another advocate of the organization, Kathleen Turner, cited in a video that the city’s senior population is expected to grow by 40 percent by 2040. The Joan & Bob Tisch Emergency Meal Distribution Center is helping to address that problem.)

during the Citymeals 35th Annual Power Lunch November 17, 2022 at The Plaza in New York City. (Eric Vitale/Citymeals)
Kathleen Turner

Thursday’s attendees helped to raise enough funds for 143,000 meal deliveries. Before guests headed out, they learned of how a former Citymeals recipient, who died last year, bequeathed a two-part donation to the organization, starting with $2.5 million. That upped the final tally generated by the Power Lunch to 453,000 meals.

Jonathan Tisch and Lizzie Tisch during the Citymeals 35th Annual Power Lunch November 17, 2022 at The Plaza in New York City. (Eric Vitale/Citymeals)
Jonathan Tisch and Lizzie Tisch

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