At the Bernardi Senior Citizen Multipurpose Center in Van Nuys, volunteers serve a dash of fellowship with every meal.
"I don't come here for the food, although it's not bad," said Angela Alongi, 88, between bites of tamale. "I come here to get out of my apartment. If it weren't for this place here I'd go crazy. Staying at home all the time makes me nuts."
Meals programs operated by the San Fernando Valley Interfaith Council at the Bernardi center, 16 other food distribution sites and elsewhere provide more than 2 million meals a year to senior citizens and others, said VIC Development Director Ken Castro-Oistad.
On Wednesday, the Chatsworth-based council of parishioners and clergy from nearly 300 Valley congregations was recognized by the Clergy Network for its programs that benefit the community, including Meals on Wheels and efforts to help the elderly, the homeless and people with Alzheimer's disease, AIDS and other medical problems.
With a budget of about $2.5 million this fiscal year, a network of hundreds of volunteers and about 35 full-time staff members, VIC also provides counseling on medical, transportation, financial and personal matters, and offers other help to about 1,000 senior citizens a day, Castro-Oistad said.
VIC, the largest nonprofit agency serving senior citizens in the Valley, was forced to reduce its budget by about 7% this year after cuts by the city of Los Angeles. But the 29-year-old agency is expected to easily weather the budget crisis in Los Angeles County, which grants about $75,000 a year to VIC.
At its annual awards luncheon in Woodland Hills, the Clergy Network also honored Jane Anderson, administrator of the Woodland Care Center, which provides nursing care to people of all income levels, and Willie Jordan, president of the Fred Jordan Mission, which serves the homeless.
The Clergy Network was established to increase communication between Valley religious leaders. As such, it is uniquely qualified to spot individuals or organizations that are doing exceptional work in the community, said Rabbi Bernard Cohen, founder of the network.
"We look for those who go above and beyond what everyone else is doing," Cohen said. "We know what's happening out there because we connect people who need something to organizations like these all the time. And they are really doing something positive."