Responding to Senior Hunger - The Impacts of COVID Among our Senior Population

CERT volunteers packing bags of food for seniors

Food for People makes distributing food to low income seniors one of our top priorities. Now more than ever, with COVID-19 health and safety guidance to consider, it is vital that we work to reach the seniors that are not only dealing with food insecurity, but also chronic health conditions and mobility issues that make it difficult to reach the services that they once did.

In the weeks following the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, we fielded an overwhelming number of calls from seniors concerned they would not be able to access food and worried they would go hungry. We quickly adapted our operations to ensure we could continue to serve the most vulnerable in our community during this daunting time. Due to strict COVID-19 safety requirements, we switched over our choice-style senior distributions (where people choose their own foods in-person) to pre-bagged food that is either delivered to folks' doorsteps or picked up via-drive-through, in order to limit contact and keep a high-risk vulnerable population safe. 

The fear and anxiety for the seniors in our programs was clear from the start.  In the first few weeks we saw seniors arriving to pick up food clutching old socks to their faces because they did not have masks.  The number of seniors coming to us for assistance also grew. By May the numbers served by our senior programs had grown by nearly 200 individuals, as compared to pre-pandemic, and the need is only growing.

We have two programs that aim to meet the needs of local seniors. The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) provides a 30-40 pound box of nutritious food monthly for income-eligible seniors each month.  All boxes come with the addition of cheese, bread and up to 10 lbs of fresh produce, plus some additional protein and dairy items if possible. The Senior Brown Bag Program provides a monthly bag of groceries for low-income seniors at locations throughout Humboldt County. We also use this program to reach homebound individuals who need their food delivered.  Volunteer drivers deliver bags to those who are unable to pick up their own food. Each bag consists of a variety of foods, plus cheese, bread, up to 10 lbs of fresh produce, and additional protein and dairy items if possible. Thanks to a generous donation of masks, we have also been able to give masks to seniors in need.

In addition we met regularly with our fantastic partners at the Area 1 Agency on Aging and Humboldt Senior Resource Center (HSRC) – to further help local seniors by making creative use of funding provided through the Families First Act. Together we were able to add a bag of groceries for HSRC Home Delivered Meals program participants in communities stretching from McKinleyville to Fortuna.  We also regularly provide produce to HSRC to provide a monthly bag of produce to their Home Delivered Meals program participants.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still very much active, we must ensure our seniors are kept safe and healthy and that we are able to help the most vulnerable members of our community.