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Demand nearly doubles at senior citizens food bank in Pasadena

The director of a senior citizens food bank in Pasadena said demand for groceries has almost doubled over the last three years.

On the first Friday of each month, more than 570 residents 65 or older wait in line for free groceries at the Pasadena Senior Center at Memorial Park, according to executive director Akila Gibbs. An additional 100 with limited mobility have groceries delivered through the program.

In 2008, approximately 350 sought regular help with food, she said. In 2004, only about 50 used the program, a partnership with the Los Angeles Food Bank that is designed to serve San Gabriel Valley seniors with an annual income of $10,000 or less. About half the participants live in Pasadena.

“We have seen a dramatic increase in seniors who need emergency housing, who are looking for jobs and who are just falling between the cracks,” Gibbs said. “It’s a really tough time.”

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Making things even more challenging: Meat no longer will be on the menu come November.

By Oct. 7, the center will have exhausted a $10,000 Pasadena Community Foundation grant to provide frozen chicken to supplement giveaways of milk, bread and canned or boxed food, said Tonjia Barnes, director of client services.

A $22,500 grant from the California Community Foundation that was feeding 175 needy 50- to 64-year-olds ran out last month because of high demand. Funding dried up “a lot sooner than we thought,” Barnes said. “Some [recipients] got caught up in the subprime loans debacle, lost their jobs and aren’t old enough to get Social Security.”

Pasadena seniors are far from alone in their struggles.

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A study released in August by AARP, which holds its national convention in Los Angeles next week, found that nearly 9 million Americans 50 or older were at risk of hunger in 2009 — 79% more than in 2001. People were deemed at risk if they were forced to skip meals or purchase poor-quality, low-nutrition food.

“What was a serious problem for low-income seniors has now become a crisis,” said Marvin Schachter, 87, a member of AARP California’s executive council and chairman of the Pasadena Senior Advisory Commission. “These are people who are not homeless but are, essentially, in trouble.

“The situation in Pasadena is typical. Demand for food at senior centers all around California has profoundly increased, and every senior center is concerned about baby boomers, who don’t consider themselves seniors but are a sensitive unemployment group.”

An effort in August to identify the most vulnerable homeless Pasadena residents surveyed 131 people sleeping on the streets, 37 of whom were 55 or older, said Anne Lansing, a project planner with the city’s Housing Department.

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“Some people don’t realize how desperate other people are,” Gibbs said. “Seniors are a population that’s really proud, and for some of them it’s difficult to ask for help.”

joe.piasecki@latimes.com


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