The sounds of “God Bless America” mark the beginning of meal time for the seniors of the Kenwood Community Center, one of the San Antonio Food Bank’s original 20 agencies served through Project Hope. Project Hope (Healthy Options for the Elderly) began in May 2003 as a way to provide free groceries for seniors after the Food Bank was approached by the City with a request to partner in an effort to reduce senior hunger. City officials noticed senior participants hoarding and hiding food from lunch at the senior centers. Concerned the seniors might become ill, officials approached the Food Bank for a solution. Jane Denkewalter, Senior Programs Manager, helped to start the program as a volunteer. According to Denkewalter, Project HOPE partners with 133 partner agencies and is now serving almost 8,000 unduplicated seniors each year. Each box is filled with about 35 pounds of nutritious food per senior and is delivered directly to the partnering agencies by the Food Bank, with about 80 seniors per site. These seniors may either be accessing food in Bexar County or in one of the Food Bank’s rural communities. The need is higher in the rural communities, but the Food Bank has gaps in Bexar County that need to be covered as well.
More than 100 seniors attend Kenwood Community Center. Rosalee Aguilar, Senior Nutrition Supervisor for the Center, describes most of her senior participants as living alone with little to no support outside of the Center. She says, “I see many of them struggling to make ends meet. They come in asking for rental assistance, utility assistance and more. With the rising cost of food, I am glad we can partner with the Food Bank to provide them with a basic need.” During the summer, she sees an increase in attendance because of the air conditioning available at the center. “For many of them, it’s just too hot to stay at home. They won’t turn on their air conditioning units for fear of incurring an extra expense they can’t afford,” Rosalee explains. Rosalee goes on to say, “It’s hard for our seniors, because many of them are on fixed incomes and find it hard to make ends meet at the end of the month.”
John is one of those seniors. A vibrant, happy man, John stands out from the crowd. At the young age of 73, he has the appearance of a 60 year old. Health is important to him and he makes sure to work out 3 times a week. “I didn’t take care of my health in my younger years and I realized this is the body I have. I have to take care of it,” he says. He goes on to express gratitude for the healthy foods he receives from the monthly commodities box. “I especially love the veggies and fruits at the Senior Farmers’ Market. I am unable to purchase fresh produce very often on my income.” For John, Project HOPE has been a blessing. Having never married or had any children, John relies on the company of the friends at the senior center and on the food he receives. “I think the world of the food here. It’s such a tremendous blessing. Not just for me but for the people who have become my friends,” John explains. “Believe it or not the powdered milk and oatmeal are my favorites,” John exclaims. “It’s the simple things you take for granted.”
“I’m a lucky one. I’m still active and I started taking better care of myself early enough to live longer. But many of the people here, I notice, really struggle—not just to make ends meet, but just to come to the center, get out of the heat, make it through each month,” John reflects sadly. For many of the seniors, the Community Center and the food provided by the Food Bank are their link to life—living life and ensuring they receive the sustenance to continue to live.
John expresses his gratitude for those who help make the Food Bank’s program possible, “You never know when you are someone’s life line. You never know how much life that one dollar you give, provides for someone. They count on it. We count on it.”
Seniors can access Project H.O.P.E. by calling (210)431-8326 or visiting www.safoodbank.org. If you would like to help a senior like John, please visit our website for your gift of food, time or money.