Marlene Bronte showed up at the Los Angeles LGBT Center on a recent Tuesday afternoon ready to begin perusing over tables covered with fresh kale, lettuce, spinach, celery, onions, carrots, herbs, grapes, pears, and other organic offerings.
“I have a lot of expenses and I have to keep myself healthy,” Bronte said as she took her place at the front of the line in the courtyard of The Village at Ed Gould Plaza.
The Center’s Senior Services has partnered with the food rescue organization Food Finders to add fresh produce to its existing food pantry offerings of non-perishable items.
Produce from a local farmers’ market is now distributed on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month from 2 to 3 p.m. at The Village. The offerings vary each time and have also included such items as multi-colored bell peppers, bok choy, purple carrots, rainbow chard, persimmons, and turnips.
“My food budget is on a shoestring and I come here to augment what I can’t get,” retired Marine Corps veteran William Duckworth said as he waited in line. “I’m not the world’s best cook so if I’m not familiar with what it is, I’m not quite sure what to do with it. But if I know the name, I can at least go on the internet and figure out how to cook something with it.”
With many LGBT seniors on fixed income, hunger is a major issue. Nearly one-quarter of LGBT seniors don’t have enough food to eat every week.
Several seniors said it’s not just a matter of having enough food to eat, it’s also about not always having access to nutritious food. That’s why Clarence, a two-time cancer survivor, calls the Center’s new farmers’ market “an absolute treasure.”
“It’s really difficult to eat well, and eat fresh and eat nutritious on a day-to-day basis,” Clarence said. “The produce has been a godsend because I’m able to now have salads and eat a lot of mixed greens. You open up a can of something and it’s not always the healthiest. If you have some fresh food to supplement, it always helps.”
David Epstein described himself “filled with gratitude” for the farmers’ market and food pantry.
“I would not be able to afford healthy food like this if it were not for this program,” Epstein said after filling a paper bag with produce. “I have only $500 a month to live on after I pay my rent. I could not afford good food. And without good food, there goes your health.
“I come here as often as it is available and was very happy when the food pantry expanded into fresh produce and not simply canned food,” he added. “Canned food is important but it contains a lot of sodium. So this is a dream come true.”
“Nobody has enough food to eat by the end of the month.”
Epstein said he lives in an apartment complex where “nobody has enough food to eat by the end of the month. Everyone is relying on food banks. It’s hard to tell you what it’s like to have been someone who worked, had a paycheck, and provided food for yourself only to find yourself in your golden years with no money for food. It is frightening and very stressful.”
After informally offering food assistance to seniors for years, the Center expanded its program this year with food pantries at The Village and at Triangle Square. Supplies are running low each month. (For more information, visit lalgbtcenter.org/pantry)
“Seniors are more likely to experience hunger and food insecurity,” said Mike Kelly, the Center’s Senior Services case worker who manages the market. “Although there are local food banks and many are receiving benefit assistance, fresh nutritious produce is often left off the plate.”
Many of the seniors live in low income areas that are often described as “food deserts” where residents are often forced to choose inexpensive, low quality processed foods over healthier meal choices.
“There’s a lot of barriers to people getting food – not just finances, but also food deserts and transportation,” Kelly said. “They need to be able to go somewhere where they can get food where their barriers are taken in to account. They know when they come here that being disabled or being a senior is being taken into consideration.”