Nancy Delaney has had to learn how to live without worry. A former foster child who fled an abusive husband, she got news that she was to be evicted and that she had breast cancer in the same month in 2009. After sleeping on friends' couches for months, she found a place at Sojourner Truth Manor, a senior housing community in North Oakland.
"Some people are worried about their stocks going up and down," Nancy said. "I hear people around here saying, 'I'm thankful I’m still above ground!' "
She and her neighbors are also thankful for groceries from Mercy Brown Bag, a Food Bank member agency.
FOOD IS MEDICINE
Mercy Brown Bag began 30 years ago, when seniors at the Mercy Retirement Center in Fruitvale noticed some of their neighbors skipping meals to pay bills that wouldn't wait. In those early days, they went door-to-door collecting donations, and took a pickup truck to the Valley to glean produce.
Since then, the program has grown to distribute 900,000 pounds of food each year — 85 percent of it from the Alameda County Community Food Bank. The bags are still assembled by senior volunteers, now at 24 sites from Newark to Berkeley.
Program director Krista Lucchesi explained that choosing between food and medicine is painfully common. Often, food is medicine.
"Your doctor might tell you to eat more fruits and vegetables," Krista said. "But your budget won't stretch to get you five to seven servings a day. The food from the Food Bank gets you a lot closer."
MORE MOUTHS TO FEED
Krista said she's seen households grow as families hitting hard times turn to their oldest members. "Sometimes, you’re the only one with a roof, and maybe only because it’s subsidized. So you’re trying to make ends meet with the same amount of money, and more mouths to feed."
Even living alone can be a challenge, as low-income seniors have been hit hard by state budget cuts.
"The cost of a bus pass and medicine and rent have been increasing, all at once, while my income hasn't," Nancy said. "With food from the Food Bank, I don't have to worry about how I'll pay for dinner — and it’s an enormous difference."
When we visited her, Nancy shared a baked apple with a little cinnamon on top — an apple you may have packaged if you’ve volunteered at the Food Bank.
"I can't say how many times the Food Bank has saved me at the end of the month," Nancy said. "It means so much when the money runs out, and you open your cupboard to see a can of green beans, some spaghetti, an apple or two — knowing people out there had you in mind and made this possible."
A version of this article originally appeared in the Food Bank's Community Harvest newsletter. Sign up here to receive future issues.