I arrived at the Long Beach Senior Center at 10am which seems to be prime time for the Seniors. The parking lot is full and there’s tons of activity in the lobby. I meet up with the Senior Center’s supervisor who gives me a grand tour of the large 2-story center. There are dozens of rooms all designated for various activities: billiards, table tennis, sewing, weaving, and wood carving. There is a room for the group who knits and crochets – they have nicknamed themselves the “Senior Hookers”. There’s a lapidary workshop, a computer lab and a fitness center. There’s The Friendly Cup Café where Seniors can buy a meal for about $4. There’s a gift shop and a thrift store. There are several large rooms used for exercise, dance and Zumba classes. As I walk through the building I am amazed by two things: just how busy the place is and how many clients the Supervisor greets by name.
We end the tour at the auditorium where their food distribution is taking place. Food Finders drops off food to the Senior Center three times a week. Tables line one wall of the auditorium with fresh fruits and vegetables, flowers and prepared salads, fresh bread and pastries. I meet the three main volunteers who organize the food distribution; they are affectionately known as “The Tony, Tony and Bob Show”. Bob is organizing the food on the tables. One Tony is calling out numbers and the other Tony is lining up Seniors after their number is called. Today 107 numbers have been given out. I ask if they can use fresh dairy or protein, but the Supervisor explains that they are not able to pass out these perishable items because most of the Seniors don’t go home right after the distribution. Instead, they stay and partake in the activities and services at the center and she can’t, in good conscious, have them eat chicken or dairy that has been sitting out all day in their purse or shopping bag.
I notice how much joy the fresh flowers from Trader Joe’s give them. I am told a story about one of their clients who just reached the Senior age of 50. He is developmentally disabled but lives semi-independently in an assisted living home. For years he has taken the city bus to the Senior Center to work his volunteer job washing dishes in the Friendly Cup Café. This job gives him experience as well as a supportive place to spend time doing useful work. The day he turned 50, and officially became a Senior, he was excited to line-up for the food distribution – the only item he took was a bouquet of flowers for his mother. He continues to do this every week for his mom.
The food that Food Finders delivers to the Long Beach Senior Center helps the Seniors in many ways. While the food supplies certainly help in the obvious way, the camaraderie felt during the food distribution has also helped those who initially came to the Senior Center just looking for food. The Supervisor tells me that many of these Seniors have now become regular clients and she has begun to spot them throughout the center socializing, engaging and enjoying life.
On to the next agency…