For many of us, the concept of not having food on our table during the holiday is unimaginable. But for many San Diego seniors, meeting their daily basic needs is a struggle. When most of us are with our family enjoying turkey and all the fixings, the reality for some seniors is they may not have the resources to eat at all.
When I first started with Senior Community Centers nearly 17 years ago, we were serving two meals per day, Monday through Friday to San Diego low-income seniors. One Friday evening, I came across one of our clients. Gilbert asked me if we were going to be serving meals over the weekend. I gently told him no and that the meal service would resume on Monday morning. Then it occurred to me, what did Gilbert do for nutrition for the weekend? So I asked and Gilbert told me he would buy a hamburger on Saturday morning and then cut it into fours – each quarter accounting for two meals for each of the weekend days.
It was then that I had an “aha moment” and made it my mission to find a way to provide more meals for our low-income seniors. Through many years of advocacy and hard work by my staff and people who support seniors, Senior Community Centers now serves two meals per day seven days a week at our main downtown center and five days a week at nine congregate meal sites in Downtown, South Bay, East County and North County. This is equal to more than 1,800 meals per day, which also includes deliveries to our homebound seniors. We expect to exceed 550,000 meals just this year alone.
The saying “you are what you eat” applies to everyone, especially for seniors. Better health allows seniors to remain independent longer. Good nutrition keeps muscles, bones, organs, and other body parts strong for the long haul. Research shows people who eat a selection of brightly colored fruit, leafy vegetables, certain fish and nuts packed with omega-3 fatty acids can improve focus and decrease the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Seniors who take medication need to follow a proper diet for the medication to work properly. Lastly, food keeps seniors healthy and independent, which means less time in hospitals and long-term care.
The fight will always continue to make sure our seniors do not go without. This year we have developed a new fundraising initiative called Food From the Heart, which challenges the community to come together and become a Family for the Day and raise $1,000 for the Senior Community Centers’ Nutritional Program. The Family for the Day has the opportunity to serve lunch to our seniors and receive other acknowledgements for their gracious donation. Most importantly, the donors’ contribution puts smiles on the faces of hundreds of seniors that day as they receive a complete, nutritional meal from the donation.
With the holidays upon us, I challenge you to give to a good cause, and do it as a family. Our definition of family includes co-workers, friends, churches and synagogues, service clubs, school groups or any group that wants to work together to make a difference. Participating in programs like Food From the Heart offers an opportunity to reflect on your core values and make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate in San Diego County.
For more information on how you can get involved or if you are a senior that needs help with nutrition, please call (619) 487-0606 or visit www.servingseniors.org.