Groups team up to provide lunches for North County seniors

Groups team up to provide lunches for North County seniors
Lee Becker, 95; Phyllis Kahn, 77; and Donna Engbretson, 80, enjoy a low-cost meal on Monday at Interfaith Community Services in Vista. Photo by Shana Thompson

The senior population in San Diego County is increasing (between 2010 and 2012 the number of seniors living in the county increased 6 percent) and local service organizations and charities have stepped up to help this growing population. Help is being offered for issues such as social isolation, loneliness, depression, limited resources and inadequate nutrition.

In 2014, with seed money from the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation, Interfaith Community Services and Dreams for Change initiated a lunch program called North County Senior Connections lunches. Monday through Friday at senior mobile home communities and faith centers in San Marcos, Vista and Oceanside, seniors get a healthy lunch, socialize for an hour and enjoy educational speakers or entertainment.

On a recent Monday at the Vista Village Mobile Home Park, 76-year old Henry Gemero, whose working years were spent as a bellhop at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, smiled as he finished off his nutritious lunch with a cup of chocolate pudding. “The lunches are very good,” Gemero said. He’s a bachelor who doesn’t cook or own a car, so when neighbors take him shopping he usually buys “ … a lot of peanut butter.”

Gemero’s tablemate and friend Beverly Alexander (age 75-and-a-half) said that although she’s not on a limited income like many of the residents because she has a pension from the city of Oceanside, she still enjoys coming to the lunches to socialize. “But there are people living here who really need the lunch. One of my neighbors used to eat only bread with butter and jam and a cup of coffee, every day, three times a day.”

Donna Stinson has been with Interfaith Community Services for 17 years and has managed the North County Senior Connections program for the past three. She said that one of the most rewarding aspects of her job is talking to the residents who attend the lunches and listen to the speakers, and tell her that they never realized that there are so many organizations for seniors. “We’ve had lawyers speak to them who specialize in trusts and wills, social workers from the county aging and independent services, registered nurses from Palomar and representatives from technology companies. And we have fun entertainment, too. We’ve had the Navy band play and even a ukulele band.”

Lunches served Monday and Tuesday at the mobile home parks in Vista and San Marcos cost $2. The Dreams for Change food truck, Thyme Together, provides hot lunches for $4 Wednesday through Friday at parks in San Marcos and Oceanside and a church in Vista. “Your first lunch is free,” Stinson said. “You just have to be 55 or older.”

Greg Anglea, CEO of Interfaith Community Services, said that although the program is no longer receiving funding from the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation, they knew from the beginning that the foundation would provide seed funding. “We are getting grants, some government funding, charitable support and monies from individual donors, “Anglea said. He went on to say that there are plans to expand the program to other cities in North County.

“We have a purposeful reason for being in these communities,” he said. “Poor nutrition, isolation, loneliness and a lack of places for seniors to socialize are serious issues facing the senior community. We look at this lunch program as being a ‘pop-up’ senior center.”

1,768 seniors participated in the program during its first three years. The majority (91 percent) were white and females were also the majority (63 percent). The medium age was 73. Forty-seven percent of the program participants who lived alone and responded to a question about household income stated that they live on $1,442 a month or less.

Learn more about Interfaith Community Services at www.interfaithservices.org.

Learn more about Dreams for Change at www.dreamsforchange.org.

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