34 years ago the senior residents at Mercy Retirement and Care Center saw their neighbors were skipping meals because they could not afford food. Together with the Sisters of Mercy they reached out to 30 vulnerable men and women to offer food. Today we give free groceries to over 4,000 older men and women in our County. The need is increasing and we are opening a new site in Oakland. We chose this site because our local food bank received thousands of helpline calls from seniors in this area last year. The seniors who call explain they can no longer purchase both food and medicine or pay their utilities or rent. They are stuck with agonizing choices which negatively effect their health.
Mercy Brown Bag Program takes great care to use every dollar donated to the best of our ability. We are funded by individuals, foundations, organizations, churches, and FEMA. With only 3 and a half full-time staff members, and over $1,000,000 of in-kind donations including free rent, we can fill a household's cupboard and refrigerator with about 450 pounds of food a year for only $80. Each distribution the seniors take home about 11 pounds of fresh produce, plus can goods, a protein item, bread or grains, and dairy products as possible. The food not only nourishes their body and improves their health, it gives them an occasion to meet with neighbors and break isolation, get exercise and nutrition education, and connect to other vital community services. Over 500 senior volunteers also gain meaningful work while witnessing the great difference their work has in the lives of their neighbors.
No one imagines that at 80 years old they will have to rely on the kindness of others just so they can eat. But this where they find themselves. They are relieved to be treated with dignity and caring when they join with their friends to “shop” for a bag of groceries to hold them over for two weeks. They no longer have to water down their soup, or miss church because the bus ticket was standing in the way of dinner. Their stress is greatly reduced.