Staff and volunteers from SAHA put organize food distribution at Helios Corner. Photo: Lance Knobel

A pilot food recovery program to deliver fresh food to low-income seniors launched Tuesday at senior housing community Helios Corner in Berkeley.

The food recovery program collects excess food from restaurants, events and grocery stores for distribution to food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens, and brings them to seniors who would not otherwise have access to fresh food. The pilot program, which will run for six months, was designed and launched by Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan, in collaboration with ALL IN Alameda County, the Alameda County Community Food Bank, the Alameda County Public Health Department, Satellite Affordable Housing Associates (SAHA), Daily Bread, the Berkeley Food Pantry and community members.

“One in five seniors doesn’t know where their next meal will come from,” Chan said at the program’s launch. “And 40% of food in our country is thrown away.” 

Judy Jackson, the Berkeley senior who came up with the idea for a local food recovery program. Photo: Lance Knobel

The idea for the local food recovery program came from Judy Jackson, a senior who lives at SAHA’s Shattuck Senior Homes in Berkeley. Jackson had attended an ALL IN social innovation fair in February where she heard about a similar program in Orange County.

“A lot of seniors face a choice between eating and having housing,” Jackson said. “It’s not that people are starving, it’s that they don’t have enough meals. It’s particularly a problem at the end of the month.”

Jackson said that many seniors, particularly those with walkers or wheelchairs, find it difficult to get to food banks. In her case, she would need to take three different buses to get to the food bank.

Chan pointed out that many low-income seniors rely on the federal government’s Supplemental Security Income program (SSI), which provides a monthly income of about $814. California law prevents SSI recipients from receiving food stamps.

At the launch, tables were piled with bread, eggs, ground beef, chicken breasts, peanut butter and fresh produce, including eggplants, sweet potatoes, pears, apples, garlic, onions, carrots and squash.

Jackson said one senior who received some food through the program told her, “I never go near the produce aisle at the supermarket. I can’t afford it.”

In addition to the Berkeley program, the pilot includes food recovery projects in South Hayward/Union City and in Oakland.

“We’re using the pilots as labs, because we want to find ways to scale them up,” Chan said. When asked what happens when the six-month pilot expires, she said, “We’ll figure out how to keep it going.”

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...