Cecilia, age 83, lives in senior housing in Long Beach, and has a studio apartment. While being a life-long low-wage earner, she worked past her full retirement age, so that she could maintain a semblance of the golden years she had yearned for. At age 76, after 40+ years working as a restaurant hostess and cashier, she was forced into retirement due to advanced arthritis in her hands and feet.
Cecilia is totally broke, spending down her meager nest egg in 5 years. She relies on social security, and subsidized housing. She has a limited food budget that includes $147/month in SNAP (food stamps) benefits. There is no extra money, and she lives a bare-bones existence. “I have a lot of guilt and shame for not having planned well. It kills me when I look in the refrigerator and cupboards, and nothing is there,” she said.
Fortunately, Cecilia lives in a neighborhood that has resources to help her out. She takes a shuttle to the Senior Center and participates in the bi-weekly Brown Bag program. For the program Cecilia volunteers at the check-in desk, where she greets and chats with participants. She takes home items such as fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grain cereal, nuts, canned fish or chicken, eggs, pasta, crackers, rice, beans, and other staples. “Recently, I obtained enough food to make a pot of pheasant soup, to have throughout the week,” she commented. “That simple pot of soup gave me so much joy, I still love to cook, and the food I receive lets me cook from scratch.”
On the surface, Eduardo appears to be a typical 8 year old, living in Harbor City, CA; a neighborhood with a small town feeling, that is adjacent to other neighborhoods known for gangs, violence, and drug. What most don’t realize is that for nearly his entire life, Eduardo has helped his mother care for his older brother Raul, who is now 12. Raul has been bed stricken for the last 8 years when he was diagnosed with Addison-Schilder Disease; a rare, inherited disorder that leads to progressive brain damage, failure of the adrenal glands and eventually death.
Elina (mother) was pregnant with Eduardo when she got the news about Raul. At a few months old it was confirmed that Eduardo had the same ailment as his older brother. The only positive thing about this situation was that unlike Raul, Eduardo at 5 years old was given a bone marrow transplant and endured chemotherapy that stopped the disease from taking over his body.
Elina and her husband Jorge (who works 67 hour a week at two low paying jobs) care for their two boys; one in bed in vegetated state and one that was going through chemo. This has been a tough 3-year period for the family. Eduardo’s hair has never grown back and he still needs medication and doctor care. Raul is still bed stricken… but that is what is normal for this family.
Fortunately, the family is being helped with a weekly grocery delivery that includes USDA goods and other foods from The Foodbank of Southern California. Additionally, during Easter, Thanksgiving and specially Christmas the family receives a holiday basket and gifts. Because the food is delivered, mom (Elina) is able to stay home and care for the boys; she cares for Raul 24-hours a day.
Eduardo is in 3rd grade now, he lost a year with the transplant and chemo but he is working hard to catch up. He spends most of his spare time helping with Raul. The rest of his time is spends playing with his puppy. Eduardo would like to be a doctor when he grows up. His mother (Elina) is inspired by Eduardo’s strength, determination and don’t quit spirit. As she said “When things get hard and she starts to get depressed all she was to do is remember how The Foodbank helped her family and that gives her the courage to continue on.
Cory, age 70, lives in an apartment near downtown Long Beach. In retirement, he worked part-time as a secret shopper to supplement his social security. When Covid-19 took hold, the number of assignments dried up, and he no longer had additional income. Additionally, the senior center he frequented a few times a week closed. He no longer could attend congregate dining, nor receive a Brown Bag distribution every other Wednesday. This left him with insufficient access to nutritious food to cover three meals a day.
Cory called The Foodbank for help. He was referred to a Brown Bag site that was maintaining its bi-weekly distribution, and reenrolled in the program. Sadly, many of his friends didn’t come to this alternative site. Some had health issues and feared getting Covid-19. Others passed away. Cory was also referred to ‘Great Plates Delivered’ Meal Program for Older Adults, offered by the City of Long Beach. The program was a free home meal delivery service for older adults, to further assist those at high risk of COVID-19 and provide essential economic stimulus to local eateries during the pandemic.
A small group of seniors, including Cory, volunteer to run the distribution site’s Brown Bag program. They sort the food received from The Foodbank and create Brown Bags for distribution. When possible, caregivers pick-up Brown Bags at the senior center, and site leaders make home delivery arrangements using staff when available. Occasionally, Cory, who is able bodied and still driving, volunteers to make deliveries.
When asked how Brown Bag has impacted his life, Cory was quick to respond. “It’s been a life-line. It’s been lonely throughout the pandemic. My kids are back east, and finally visited me at Christmas. I hate being idle and Brown Bag allows me to be useful; I have a purpose, and get to see my friends. I’m also getting plenty of food. There is so much great produce, so I can spend my budget on other food items.”