Stories from Volunteers & Recipients.
Twice a month, Dianne and three other residents of her senior community set up tables in the recreation room and help seniors fill their bags with produce and canned goods. She appreciates the good feeling that comes from volunteering, but also recognizes how the program fills a critical need.
“If you had to go to the store and buy all of your fruits and vegetables, it would be a toss-up—pay your rent or buy food,” she says. “People here rely on the Mercy Brown Bag Program, and I want to do my fair share.”
“The program helps me in between my paychecks. Today I haven’t any food, will receive my check Wednesday – this food helps me out a lot, that’s the reason I am here, and the employees are great. Thank you.”
The number of phone calls I receive asking for help can be staggering some days. Let me tell you about two calls that still haunt me and remind me why we continue to provide groceries. I use them as motivations when I’m struggling to keep up with the job.
The first was a voice message left by a senior with a shaky voice who asked to enroll because she was having trouble coming up with rent money. She said “If I become homeless, what will happen to my cat? It is so hard now…I know that people say 60 is not old, but I wish I had died 10 years ago.” When I called her back, her number had been disconnected.
The second call was a woman who said she knew about our program because she worked in non-profits and had referred others to our services. She said, “I never thought I’d have to call for myself. Then my son spent a year in the hospital and all of my savings are gone. I know I should have called a while ago, but I was afraid I might see someone I know volunteering at the site. Now I realize I have put it off as long as I can, I have to swallow my pride…and ask for help…so we can survive.” The site she was asking to join had a waiting list at that time. I hung up the phone and cried.
So many of the women we serve are trying to survive on very small Social Security checks because they were “at-home moms” and did not have an income for a large portion of their lives. They made sure there was healthy food on their table for their children, but now have none for themselves.
The choices these men and women are forced to make are heartbreaking. Imagine sitting in front of your pill bottle knowing that if you don’t take that $2 pill you won’t get better, but if you do you’ll have to skip dinner tonight – and you won’t get better.
Free groceries allows the seniors to do things they would not otherwise be able to afford. Transportation to important events in their lives such as a visiting a friend in the hospital, buying a present for their grandchild’s birthday, turning on the heat on cold days or a fan on hot days – these “luxuries” can be realities only if they do not have to buy food.
Linda arrived in Sacramento to advocate for an increase in benefits for low income Californians. Seniors on SSI/SSP receive $889 a month. This doesn't even cover the cost of a market-rate apartment in Oakland, CA. Sitting across from her district represenitive he said, "Tell me your story."
She began, "Well, there is no food in my kitchen. My fridge has been empty for three days."
Alfred said he did not need a lot of food. It was just that he had been in the hospital all week. He would get his (SSI/SSP) check at the end of the week. For now the only thing in his fridge was some jam and some frosting. "I really only need some bread and peanut butter, so I will have something to eat with the jam."
"I have a place to stay but I would like to have something to eat. I’m renting a place but the rent is so high I can’t afford to get food."
"This program makes such a big difference in my life."
"This is reality: You’re counting quarters for the washing machine and have to put it off for another month so you wear the cleanest of the dirties, just so you can eat."
"I’ve never had to get free food before but I need Brown Bag to live. I have no money to buy food."
"I can’t be on the program anymore because I am moving to Tracy, but I just called to say thank you for helping me survive."
"After I learned about my brain tumor, I wanted to eat only organic food but I have to be realistic. I can’t afford that, if I did that I would hardly eat at all, so can I come back on your program?"
"I am 93 years old, and have just been released from convalescent home to be able to return to my apartment after an illness (broken ankle) and I am on SSI. After being in the convalescent home, I have no funds to buy groceries for myself now that I am back in my home, and I need the services of the Brown Bag program, which I have never used before. I have always taken care of myself, so I need to get information. I do not know how to do this, please give me a call, I need your help as soon as possible. If there is some way that someone can help me stock up some food now that I have nothing in the house, that would be helpful."
"I am 63 years old and pay $900 rent each month for a single room occupancy hotel room, my income is $953 a month. I learned of your program because you did a health and safety check and saw my refrigerator was completely empty. I am bed-confined and have bites from bed bugs and cockroaches that crawl on me. I spend all day on the phone trying to figure out how to get help. I am very grateful for the help with groceries."
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Seniors helping seniors is the heart of our program.
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