City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson launched an emergency program to provide free healthy meals to homebound seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis presents a crucible for leaders and requires quick strategic thinking to preserve our communities. The councilmember launched this innovative program to divert funding from community events that were canceled due to COVID-19, and support two highly vulnerable populations during the pandemic: homebound seniors; as well as small business owners and their employees.
The emergency meal program came to life immediately after the mayor set in motion his “Safer at Home” order, requiring all residents to remain home with the exception of performing essential tasks. Los Angeles City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson instantly understood the impact this order would have on South L.A. communities and quickly took steps to protect our most vulnerable residents: our seniors.
“Our District has the highest number of African American seniors and I know this is an extremely challenging time for them, ” said Harris-Dawson. “This program ensures that seniors living alone and those in assisted living facilities that do not serve food, won’t have to worry about where their next meal will come from.”
The senior meals pilot program launched on March 23, responding to an immediate need in our community: South L.A.’s considerable amount of seniors in need of resources and support. Thirty eight percent of South L.A. residents 65 and older have annual incomes of less than $18,735. That percentage is significantly higher than that of the City or County of Los Angeles as a whole, 28.5% and 24.7% respectively.
Additionally, the current fabric of existing senior service programs has been stretched thin by COVID-19. Various senior facilities like Betty Hill Senior Center were forced to close and cancel programming. On the first day of deliveries, the emergency meals program fed 400 seniors. By the end of the first week, over 1,000 residents from Broadway Villas, FAME, Good Shepherd, Ward Villas, West Angeles, West Angeles Curve, Normandie Sr. Home and numerous others received free meals delivered from the local restaurants.
“I think this is a very heartwarming program put together by Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson’s office, said Maria Rutledge, South L.A. senior and community organizer. It is difficult for many seniors to admit that they need help and this program reminds us that someone cares; it reminds us that this community is a family.”
In addition to serving seniors, this program makes a real impact in the lives of small business owners and their staff. The emergency meal program engaged a total of 18 small businesses in South L.A., providing the cash flow necessary for each business to keep their doors open and pay their staff to serve our community during this pandemic.
“Now is the time for all of us to support one another. Our small businesses contribute so much to the financial and cultural vitality of our communities,” said Councilmember Harris-Dawson. “The emergency senior meal program allows them to continue giving back to our neighborhoods while also keeping their staff employed.”
All of the participating businesses are required to follow strict health department regulations and practice physical distancing while managing door-to-door delivery for the seniors. Whether new or old, all of these businesses have deep community ties. The organizations, seniors, and community as a whole showed loved for the restaurants’ altruistic food efforts to foster positive relationships with our community. The first cohort of participating businesses are almost entirely small, family-owned restaurants with fewer than 10 employees and includes:
“This program allows local restaurants the opportunity to keep our kitchens open and staff employed,” said Kim Prince, owner of Hotville Chicken. “We remain resilient and diligent about the health and safety of our customers, staff, and the community at large. We are all in this together.”
“Being a part of the emergency meal program for seniors has been rewarding and a blessing,” said Kyndra McCray, owner & chef of Swift Cafe. My grandma passed away two months ago and it’s been incredibly difficult. Being able to deliver meals to people who remind me of her has kept a smile on my face. As a newly opened cafe, it has been a struggle to keep my doors open. Providing these meals funded by Councilmember Harris Dawson has allowed me to keep my doors open and do what I absolutely love, which is to cook.”
All of these businesses are adapting to survive and continue serving the community. The program will continually grow and engage more seniors. At full capacity, the program will serve an estimated 5,000-7,000 seniors. Beginning this week, Council District 8 residents over the age of 65 can sign up to receive free lunch delivered. If you are over 65 or would like to sign up someone who is, please complete the form at mhdcd8.com.