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Wish Book: Fulfilling needs of senior citizens amid coronavirus pandemic

Wish Book: Fulfilling needs of senior citizens amid
coronavirus pandemic 1

For seniors like 80-year-old Jose Mejia, the isolation brought
on by the coronavirus pandemic can be especially lonely and
frightening.

Many crave a safe place to see familiar faces, to share a hello
or a goodbye, to find a balanced meal — even if it’s only for a
short time each day.

Mejia, who lives in San Jose’s Alum Rock neighborhood, and
others like him find a glimmer of joy at the Eastside Neighborhood
Center, run by Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County.

  • SAN JOSE, CA – OCTOBER 19: An early morning chair yoga class is
    offered to seniors at the Catholic Charities’ Eastside Neighborhood
    Center, Wedensday, Oct. 21, 2020, in San Jose, Calif. (Karl
    Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

  • Wish Book: Fulfilling needs of senior citizens amid
coronavirus pandemic 2

    SAN JOSE, CA – OCTOBER 19: An early morning chair yoga class is
    offered to seniors at the Catholic Charities’ Eastside Neighborhood
    Center, Wedensday, Oct. 21, 2020, in San Jose, Calif. (Karl
    Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

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  • Wish Book: Fulfilling needs of senior citizens amid
coronavirus pandemic 3

    SAN JOSE, CA – OCTOBER 19: An early morning chair yoga class is
    offered to seniors at the Catholic Charities’ Eastside Neighborhood
    Center, Wedensday, Oct. 21, 2020, in San Jose, Calif. (Karl
    Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

  • Wish Book: Fulfilling needs of senior citizens amid
coronavirus pandemic 4

    SAN JOSE, CA – OCTOBER 19: Ofaloto Ruiz picks a meal to go at
    the Catholic Charities’ Eastside Neighborhood Center nutrition
    program for seniors, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in San Jose, Calif.
    (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

  • Wish Book: Fulfilling needs of senior citizens amid
coronavirus pandemic 5

    SAN JOSE, CA – OCTOBER 19: Ofaloto Ruiz waits in line for a take
    out meal at the Catholic Charities’ Eastside Neighborhood Center,
    Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area
    News Group)

  • Wish Book: Fulfilling needs of senior citizens amid
coronavirus pandemic 6

    SAN JOSE, CA – OCTOBER 19: Margaret Marrujo and Lou LeLellis
    hand out meals to seniors at the Catholic Charities’ Eastside
    Neighborhood Center, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in San Jose, Calif.
    (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

  • Wish Book: Fulfilling needs of senior citizens amid
coronavirus pandemic 7

    SAN JOSE, CA – OCTOBER 19: Jose Mejia waits in line for a take
    out meal at the Catholic Charities’ Eastside Neighborhood Center,
    Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area
    News Group)

  • Wish Book: Fulfilling needs of senior citizens amid
coronavirus pandemic 8

    SAN JOSE, CA – OCTOBER 19: Margaret Marrujo and Lou LeLellis
    hand out meals to seniors at the Catholic Charities’ Eastside
    Neighborhood Center, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in San Jose, Calif.
    (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

  • Wish Book: Fulfilling needs of senior citizens amid
coronavirus pandemic 9

    SAN JOSE, CA – OCTOBER 19: Margaret Marrujo and Lou LeLellis
    hand out meals to seniors at the Catholic Charities’ Eastside
    Neighborhood Center, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in San Jose, Calif.
    (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

  • Wish Book: Fulfilling needs of senior citizens amid
coronavirus pandemic 10

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    SAN JOSE, CA – OCTOBER 19: Seniors line up for meals at the
    Catholic Charities’ Eastside Neighborhood Center, Monday, Oct. 19,
    2020, in San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

  • Wish Book: Fulfilling needs of senior citizens amid
coronavirus pandemic 11

    SAN JOSE, CA – OCTOBER 19: Meals for seniors are prepared by Lou
    DeLellis and Phu Tsi at the Catholic Charities Eastside
    Neighborhood Center, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in San Jose, Calif.
    (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

  • Wish Book: Fulfilling needs of senior citizens amid
coronavirus pandemic 12

    SAN JOSE, CA – OCTOBER 19: Ofaloto Ruiz waits in line for a take
    out meal at the Catholic Charities’ Eastside Neighborhood Center,
    Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in San Jose, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area
    News Group)

  • Wish Book: Fulfilling needs of senior citizens amid
coronavirus pandemic 13

    SAN JOSE, CA – OCTOBER 19: Margaret Marrujo and Lou LeLellis
    hand out meals to seniors at the Catholic Charities’ Eastside
    Neighborhood Center, Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, in San Jose, Calif.
    (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

  • Wish Book: Fulfilling needs of senior citizens amid
coronavirus pandemic 14

    SAN JOSE, CA – OCTOBER 19: An early morning chair yoga class is
    offered to seniors at the Catholic Charities’ Eastside Neighborhood
    Center, Wedensday, Oct. 21, 2020, in San Jose, Calif. (Karl
    Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

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The center has become a place where he can take part in
socially-distanced outdoor exercise classes and receive nutritional
take-home meals which the agency provides — among many other
services — for its registered guests.

“It’s an option to get to see other people and to do
something during the day,” the Spanish-speaking Mejia said
through an interpreter. “I really appreciate that I get to see
people that I know.”

But Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County is hurting. The
pandemic has turned its budget upside down as staffers have tried
to accommodate the needs of a growing number of seniors who seek
amenities offered at Catholic Charities’ centers — Eastside in
the Alum Rock neighborhood and John XXIII Multi-Service Center in
downtown San Jose.

So Catholic Charities is seeking $50,000 through Wish Book to
help the nonprofit meet the demand.

In July, Catholic Charities provided meals for 9,336 seniors,
some 2,000-plus more than it had budgeted.�And the increase in
demand came at a time when county funding for senior nutrition
dipped below what was already 70% of costs.

Catholic Charities’ general fund typically covers the
difference. But amid the pandemic, the financial gap has grown to
$15,000 per month for senior meals alone and the nonprofit has been
forced to layoff employees to compensate for some of the increases
in demand, according to CCSCC.

“The reason why we picked the senior center (for Wish Book) is
that it’s so much more than just giving them a meal or giving
them enough food for the week,†said LaDonn DuBois, the CCSCC’s
senior director of communications. “It’s being able to see
somebody and even though they can’t touch or dance or anything
like that, it’s just being recognized and looked after so to
speak. 

“It’s a connection and making sure that their neighbors are
OK. We have increased tenfold the amount of meals that we’ve
served daily and weekly, and we’ve had to turn people away, which
is something we never want to do. The extra money will help us so
that we can increase our meals and continue to help these seniors
who are all on super-fixed income.â€

Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County has offered essential
services to people of all faiths and backgrounds since 1955.

Ofaloto Ruiz and her husband, Louis, started visiting the
Eastside Center in April, weeks after Santa Clara County’s
shelter-in-place order went into effect to combat the virus. They
found out about the center through 2-1-1, a 24-hour national
helpline that refers callers to essential services.

Originally from Tonga, Ruiz said she and Louis attend the
center’s Monday and Wednesday morning exercise classes and wait
in line for meals that are handed out on weekdays between 10:30
a.m. and noon.

“We stay 6 feet away and put our masks on every time,†Ruiz
said. “The food is good and the exercise is good, too.â€

“We’ve found like-minded, compassionate people who care
about each other,†said her husband. “It’s what we do at
Eastside — we take care of each other.â€

Before the pandemic, the Eastside center would fill up with
about 150-plus seniors for meal services, and staff and volunteers
would cook on the site.

Now meals are prepared off-site and served contactless.

“We’d like to serve more, but we don’t have the funding
for it,†DuBois said.

Some Wish Book funding will go towards volunteer coordinating,
which the centers need to package, register and distribute
meals.

It’s a whole different operation since the pandemic arrived
last spring.

“I have noticed that many things have changed,†Milton
Cadena, program director of the Eastside Center, said. “This
center has been very popular as a place for seniors so they can
socialize and see their friends and neighbors. Now that we have to
serve the seniors outdoors, it has been very challenging for
us.

“We have to be creative in the way that we provide the
services. Giving the meals to take out. Doing the exercises
outdoors. Little by little, we are trying to gather the seniors
because they are asking for it. They are asking for opportunities
to participate in something that does them good.â€

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Catholic Charities doesn’t just assist seniors. During the
early months of the pandemic through the middle of the summer,
CCSCC served nearly 131,000 households and a half million people at
multiple sites throughout the county, an enormous increase from the
usual 40,000 individuals served annually.

That isn’t expected to change.

No matter how long the pandemic lasts, Catholic Charities
expects to be there doing what it’s already been doing for
decades — offering senior meals, social activities and a little
bit of hope.

“It’s more than a meal,†Ruiz said, “we can’t wait to
come here in the morning. It’s changed our life.â€

THE WISH BOOK SERIES

Wish Book is an annual project of The Mercury News that invites
readers to help their neighbors.

WISH

Donations can help Catholic Charities fund a growing gap of
$15,000 per month for senior meals. Without funding, Catholic
Charities might have to limit the number of seniors it serves.
Goal: $50,000.

HOW TO GIVE

Donate at wishbook.mercurynews.com or
mail in the coupon.

 

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