A group of women were sitting around a table at the La Mesa Adult Enrichment Center, laughing over a lunch of chicken cacciatore, when one woman — 74-year-old San Diego resident Maggie Mayer — said the dish needed more tomatoes.

Regardless of whether the dish served at last Tuesday’s brunch lacked tomatoes, there is a lot for women to be grateful for. Instead of sitting at home alone or eating at a fast food restaurant, they enjoy a free, healthy meal with a side of friendship.

“It’s much healthier and I don’t have to eat alone,” said Cheryl Astrada, 70, an El Cajon resident whose husband died in 1994. to.”

The free lunch program at the La Mesa Adult Enrichment Center is a partnership with Senior Services that was brought back earlier this month after a years-long hiatus due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. After filling out paperwork for the program, residents 60 and older receive a free lunch on site, plus a meal they can eat for breakfast the next day.

John Gardner, 76, of La Mesa, talks with classmates at lunch at the La Mesa Adult Enrichment Center. Seniors can get a free lunch and a meal to take home for breakfast the next day.

(San Diego Union-Tribune)

Aside from the program’s nutritional benefits, the center’s free lunch and inexpensive activities enrich the lives of seniors who participate, said Morgan Fuhr, the center’s part-time recreation leader.

“It’s more about getting seniors out into the community to connect with other seniors,” Fore said.

But for other lunchtime visitors to the centre, the nutritional benefits are key.

For about a quarter of San Diego seniors, eating three meals a day is a luxury. When seniors live on a limited budget, it may mean skipping doses of prescribed medications, or going hungry for longer periods so other bills don’t get paid.

Joyce Bardwell works in the kitchen at the La Mesa Adult Enrichment Center.

Joyce Bardwell works in the kitchen at the La Mesa Adult Enrichment Center.

(San Diego Union-Tribune)

What advocates have long described as a problem has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, when seniors struggled to travel and most congregate meal programs were closed for safety.

Economic fluctuations during the pandemic have also increased the cost of food as the availability of some basic items dwindles. To help individuals and families, CalFresh has temporarily increased its benefits for recipients. But additional CalFresh food stamp benefits expired in April, while the price of many basic food items remains high.

“The price of everything is going up except for our senior Social Security checks,” said Anya Delacruz, associate executive director of ElderHelp.

A resident enjoys his meal at the La Mesa Center, provided as part of a partnership with Senior Services Group.

A resident enjoys his meal at the La Mesa Center, provided as part of a partnership with Senior Services Group.

(San Diego Union-Tribune)

Food insecurity among older people

Food insecurity – a daily struggle characterized by uncertainty about access to enough nutritious food to live a healthy, active lifestyle – is a harsh reality for many people.

The San Diego Hunger Coalition reports that 147,000 San Diegans age 60 and older — nearly a quarter of the population — do not regularly get three nutritious meals a day.


Senior food resources

Are you looking for resources to access nutrition services as a senior in San Diego? These organizations offer a variety of programs for seniors to participate in in-person meals, receive meal delivery orders, and access groceries. In addition to the resources below, meals are often offered at senior centers throughout the area

Phone: (866) 262-9881
Website: bit.ly/calfreshsd

Helping the elderly
Email: frontdesk@elderhelpofsandiego.org
Phone: (619) 284-9281
website: elderhelpofsandiego.org

Feed San Diego
Email: info@feedingsandiego.org
Phone: (858) 452-3663
Website: feedingsandiego.org

Jewish Family Service of San Diego
Phone: (858) 637-3210
website: jfssd.org

La Jolla Meals on Wheels
Email: gljmow@att.net
Phone: (858) 452-0391
website: lajollamealsonwheels.org

Meals on Wheels San Diego County
Email: info@meals-on-wheels.org
Phone: (619) 260-6110
website: Meals on Wheels.org

Elderly service
Email: info@servingseniors.org
Phone: (619) 235-6572
website: servingseniors.org

California reports that among households receiving food assistance, about a third have at least one person who is elderly or has a disability.

Aside from being able to financially access food, there are other reasons why an elderly person may not eat enough food.

Limited mobility and inability to drive may prevent someone from getting to the grocery store, physical ailments may make standing in front of the stove to cook impossible, and limited retirement income may not cover steep increases in grocery prices. As people age, they often experience a decline in their taste buds, which, according to the National Institutes of Health, may lead older people to skip the foods they need to stay healthy.

Dental problems or ill-fitting dentures can also hinder a person’s ability to eat.

“With seniors, it’s not (always) a social and economic issue,” said Brent Wakefield, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels San Diego County. “If you can’t chew and swallow food, you’re starting off on the wrong foot.”

Eating can also be a social activity, so older adults who live alone may feel lonely and less interested in food.

Because there are many reasons why seniors may not eat enough food, there is a diverse and comprehensive support system to help seniors access food.

As of 2019, California residents who receive Social Security income can be eligible for CalFresh food benefits, as long as their total annual income as a single person is $27,192 or less. If approved, beneficiaries receive an electronic benefits transfer card with a monthly budget for food purchases at grocery stores and many farmers markets.

Through ElderHelp, those 60 and older who have the ability to prepare food at home can enroll in two separate food assistance programs.

Through the grocery shopping program, ElderHelp volunteers take seniors to the supermarket to purchase food, which the customer pays for themselves. Volunteers can help customers with limited vision read labels, and can carry groceries up and down stairs to help people with limited mobility.

ElderHelp’s Supplemental Nutrition Delivery Program provides seniors with some basic groceries like milk, bread, and eggs twice a month to ease the financial burden. They often have fresh produce, too, which is donated by ProduceGood, a local nonprofit that coordinates the picking of fruits and vegetables in private orchards with excess food.

Some clients, depending on their needs, may enroll in both ElderHelp programs.

“This is clearly a cost-effective option for people who are struggling to buy their groceries. Because these deliveries are supplemental, they are not meant to carry anyone for two weeks,” said Rebecca Pollard, director of program innovation.

Local group lunch programs, like the one at the La Mesa Adult Enrichment Center, aim to reduce feelings of loneliness among seniors while providing nutritious meals to their clients.

“There’s a huge advantage if a senior goes to a communal dining location; you get that socialization, which helps with depression, which is one of the things that leads to a lack of appetite,” Wakefield said. “(But) there are a lot of seniors In remote areas that are really far from communal dining. If you’re 75 or 85 years old, you won’t drive 20 miles just to get lunch; This could be dangerous.

Seniors can also connect with services like Meals on Wheels of San Diego County, a nonprofit that provides fully prepared meals to customers for $4 each. The nonprofit is expanding its capacity by building a new central hub. The new facility’s large kitchen space will increase its annual production from about 624,000 meals a year to 1 million meals a year, eventually allowing it to expand production to 2 million, Wakefield said.

In addition to food deliveries, customers have a brief visit with a volunteer, who can look for signs of distress or deteriorating health.

One customer, Carlsbad resident Corinne Starkweather, 97, has received deliveries from Meals on Wheels for the past five years after volunteering for the nonprofit that puts meals together. As she gets older, cooking becomes increasingly difficult, so she’s grateful for nutritious meals.

“It’s very difficult to try to do cooking when you’re in your 90s,” Starkweather said. “It’s great to have all the meals prepared, and these amazing volunteers are such a beautiful part of this whole program. They’re amazing people who check up on you and are truly very blessed people.”

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