Dozens of needy older adults in the Pasadena area are receiving freerestaurant meals once a week thanks to a newly formed collaboration among thePasadena Senior Center, ALTAeats Restaurant and Harvest Village Ministries, allof which were aware that many older adults are experiencing difficulty gettingenough food since the coronavirus hit.
“In some cases, during our regular wellness calls to older adultsthrough our Telephone Reassurance Program, some people said they hadn’t eaten afull meal in up to four days,” said Akila Gibbs, executive director of thePasadena Senior Center. “In other cases, loved ones of older adults called thecenter to let us know about these emergency situations.”
When the COVID-19 crisis began, the City of Pasadena notified thecenter that it is an essential community service that needs to stay open. Sincethen, its main focus has been providing vital social services to older adultsin need, including the delivery of food and other necessities.
Gibbs said many are housebound and their usual caregivers can’t shopfor them anymore under the circumstances. Others have in the past depended onfamily members who are unemployed currently and lack the funds to spend onextra groceries.
The Pasadena Senior Center now has a list of nearly 200 local olderadults who need emergency food deliveries. Boxes with a combination of freefood and other necessities, such as toilet paper, are delivered to help thosewith emergency needs.
Early in the operation, the center’s industrial-size refrigerator brokedown. Initially it was a problem for the center’s emergency food pantry, andthen it opened the door to a greater opportunity. Marie Cantor, the center’sassociate director of foundation relations, decided to see if a localrestaurant might be able to help. She reached out to one of her favorites,ALTAeats on Allen Avenue in Pasadena.
ALTAeats owner Paul Ragan didn’t have a spare refrigerator, but toldCantor he had been looking for a way to provide food to first responders,health care workers and people who were struggling to get enough to eat.Sharing food with needy recipients was an idea he developed with his daughteras one of her school projects years earlier. They called it Emma’s Pantry, butthey hadn’t figured out a way to make it work.
Ragan was ready to have his staff prepare meals at the restaurant. Allhe needed, he told Cantor, was someone to identify those with the greatest needand have the meals delivered. The Pasadena Senior Center was ready to do both.Staff at the center could pinpoint the neediest seniors on the emergency foodlist, and, thanks to Harvest Village Ministries volunteers, it already had adistribution network.
Harvest Village Ministries is a small church that traditionally hasfocused on violence prevention by conducting workshops at local high schools.When the coronavirus crisis hit, church leaders realized they needed to changecourse. They decided they could defuse potentially stressful or violentsituations in homes by delivering food to those in need. Myhisha Myles, thechurch’s director of operations, reached out to the Pasadena Senior Center andother groups and offered to facilitate food delivery.
The offer was just what the Pasadena Senior Center needed to connectmeals from Ragan’s ALTAeats restaurant to older adults with food emergencies.Every Thursday, Ragan’s staff prepares the meals, which are then brought to thecenter. Carmen Macias, the center’s social services director, organizesneighborhood routes with the names and addresses of recipients. When HarvestVillage Ministries’ drivers arrive at the center, each takes a route and a mapand heads out to make their contactless deliveries.
Initially Ragan committed to providing 40 meals every Thursday fordistribution. The following week he doubled that to 80 meals, and the next weekhe upped it to 90. He’s also providing meals for health care workers and firstresponders. When he heard the staff at a local convalescent home was lockeddown due to the virus outbreak, he provided 50 meals for them as well.
Ragan is picking up the tab for the food himself, and a few of hisregular guests have given him donations for the cause.
“I realized that people are hungry, people are out of work and they’reout of money,” Ragan said. “I could help because what I do is feed people.”
Although the ALTAeats dining room is closed during the COVID-19 crisis,he offers one set meal a day, which he calls a “Roastie,” that’s available forpickup. His income doesn’t come close to what it was before, but this keeps hisfour chefs working. His servers take turns working shifts to bring “Roasties”to customers’ cars, and Ragan makes sure his employees are paid. He has appliedfor California Governor Gavin Newsom’s “Great Plates” program that helps fundrestaurants providing food for the needy, but he hasn’t heard back about hisapplication yet.
Noor restaurant at Paseo Colorado is also contributing food for hungryolder adults. Gibbs said Noor donates 25 to 30 quarts of soup weekly to thePasadena Senior Center to be delivered in boxes of food.
“Our older adults call and say how delicious the meals from ALTAeatsand the soup from Noor are and how thankful they are. It’s a really big hit,”Gibbs added. “The restaurants are so kind to provide this food.”
Meals are also delivered by Pasadena Senior Center staff as well asvolunteers consisting of families and others.
She said the Pasadena Senior Center purchases a huge amount of food andother supplies to give away in the boxes, and the restaurant meals help stretchthe center’s food budget. The center’s refrigerator has been replaced.
“Still, I’m nervous we could run out of money,” she said. “We’re a nonprofitso we need to keep raising money so can continue to feed our most needy olderPasadenans.”
For more information about the programs and services of the PasadenaSenior Center, or to make a donation, visit pasadenaseniorcenter.org or call (626) 795-4331.