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placeholder April 17, 2017   •   VOL. 55, NO. 8    •   Oakland, CA
Senior Living & Resources

Krista Lucchesi shows off the new Mercy Brown Bag food truck.

New food truck to help stem senior hunger

Emotions were running high April 2 when the food truck arrived at the site of the Mercy Brown Bag Program, located at Oakland's Mercy Retirement and Care Center. A small contingent of the program's volunteers had gathered to greet the vehicle with cheers and applause.

Mercy Brown Bag Program
Two days later, as she gazed at the truck parked behind the residential care facility, Krista Lucchesi, Mercy Brown Bag Program director, couldn't stop smiling at the memory. The food truck "has been a dream for over a year so for it to be a reality now is kind of amazing for all of us," she said.

The food truck, built in St. Louis and driven across the country by Nicole St. Lawrence, Mercy Brown Bag's assistant director, comes to Oakland's Fruitvale district with a mission to help stem the tide of senior hunger in Alameda County.

Most recipients of the Mercy Brown Bag Program have a monthly income of $989 and they live in a county where the overall median income is $82,000, and where fair market rent averages about $1,663 for a one-bedroom apartment, Lucchesi said. In this economic situation many seniors in the county have to make difficult decisions in regard to food, medication or shelter in order to survive.

"Healthy food is usually the first thing they will give up," Lucchesi said.

That's where the Mercy Brown Bag Program comes in. The program currently delivers food to 5,000 seniors at 17 sites — where dozens of seniors help to offload and distribute food to and from a fleet of vehicles — and through 45 senior service providers. Most of the food that the program distributes comes from the Alameda County Community Food Bank in Oakland.

Each person who has previously signed on as a food recipient can go home with up to 20 pounds of groceries. Much of the food could be considered "senior appropriate," meaning that it is low sodium and easy to chew, but there is a variety of food groups to choose from.

The Brown Bag Program serves a population that is composed of people representing about 12 language groups, St. Lawrence said.

"That we know of," Lucchesi added.

Contacts at the different distribution sites indicate which foods are more desired or are popular. "Some sites say to bring rice every single time and say 'we are always going to want rice' or 'we love sweet potatoes,'" Lucchesi said. "Whenever we can find them we try to make sure we have certain foods available for that site."

The majority of the food that the program delivers is produce and the new pantry truck is equipped with a system that will lower baskets of produce to street level that will make food selection for the senior recipients more easily accessible. A cooler section on the new truck will make it easier to transport such foods as milk and other products that need to be chilled.

The food truck, which cost about $200,000, was paid for with donations from the Thomas J. Long Foundation and the Carl Gellert and Celia Berta Gellert Foundation.

The addition of the new food pantry truck will enable the Mercy Brown Bag Program to expand efforts to reach even more seniors in need. The truck will have the capacity to reach up to 3,000 more people throughout the county, Lucchesi said. "We are currently building our route to see which areas are not as well served."

The truck will also help address new challenges facing a number of seniors in the community, Lucchesi said. "We kept getting calls from low-income seniors who are homebound and with little or no social support. We used to be able to ask them, 'Do you have a child or a friend or a neighbor who can come and get your bags for you?' People had some social connections. But now the isolation is so much deeper and we are hearing more and more from people who say they have no one who can come out to pick up their bag, which makes us sad. So we have been trying to figure out how to get closer to those folks."

The truck may also help address a related concern: seniors and public transportation. "We have been getting calls where people are saying 'I don't have any money to get on public transportation to get to one of your sites.' They are really, really living on the edge. This (truck) is a way to get food to them so that they don't have to go on public transportation."

A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new food truck is scheduled to take place April 19. The truck will begin to make its rounds around the county once drivers are hired and a new route has been developed.

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