San Francisco Mayor London Breed and other community leaders joined On Lok staff, friends and supporters at our Mission Nutrition kick-off event last November. The gathering took place at the 30th Street Senior Center, home base of the Center’s popular meal program, to celebrate the continued expansion of community and home-delivered meal services, now served under the banner Mission Nutrition. “I’m here to express my appreciation and my support for a program that feeds over 3,000 older adults a year. We will continue to support it to make sure no person is ever turned away,” said the Mayor.

“We are the largest multipurpose senior center in San Francisco, serving more than 6,000 seniors. Our purpose is not only to support seniors’ health and independence, but to help people better manage and structure their own health,” said Dr. Joseph Barbaccia, Chair of the Board of On Lok Day Services and Emeritus Professor of Family and Community Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine. “We focus on proper nutrition, both served here and home-delivered, but also on social interaction, friendship, personal growth, and learning. Through nutrition education that teaches seniors how to eat wisely, we also help people manage chronic health problems, such as diabetes.” Dr. Barbaccia was one of the earliest supporters of the nutrition program at 30th street Senior Center. As a member of the board, he championed former Center Director Hadley Hall when Hall advocated for the creation of the nutrition program 40 years ago.

“Joe was one of my bosses back in the ’60s and in 1968 we sat around a table as a group and discussed what we needed to do to keep more seniors in their homes,” said Hall at the event. “I told him the community needed social workers, home visits, and congregate and home-delivered meals. Joe said, ‘Good idea, go do it.”

Today, Mission Nutrition serves 88,000 community meals annually, 313 days a year, at six dining sites in San Francisco, and delivers another 130,000 meals to homebound seniors. Eighty percent of seniors in the home-delivery program are very low income, and 35 percent over 85 years of age. The program keeps growing thanks to grants from San Francisco’s Department of Aging and Adult Services (DAAS) and donations from our community of friends. DAAS administers the Dignity Fund, passed by San Francisco voters in 2016, which guarantees funding to enhance supportive services to help older adults and adults with disabilities age with dignity in their own homes and communities. However, that is not enough to cover Mission Nutrition’s costs.

“Many programs at the Center have government funding, but that covers perhaps 60-67 percent of our expenses—the rest we have to raise,” said 30th Street Senior Center Director Valorie Villela. “In the Center’s kitchen, we prepare meals for six different community dining sites in the city. We feel very proud to contribute to community.”

Development Manager Henry Pacheco invited attendees to get involved. “We have been living in a period when communities have been torn apart. I grew up with my grandparents in rural New Mexico and, as a child, I used to take food to the poor elderly in our small town. It taught me that the community takes care of itself, and that’s what we are doing here. Contributions and volunteer opportunities are always welcome!”

Villela shared a story that is representative of the benefits provided by proper nutrition. “Ed is a 70-year-old gay man who moved from Colorado to the Bay Area to participate in the antiwar movement. He drove a cab for Desoto and used to pick up rides at 30th street. Talking to these seniors, he learned about the nutrition program and made a point of asking them what the dining room had served for lunch that day. He would say that, when he retired, he would also take advantage of this ‘senior restaurant.’ When Robert was diagnosed with diabetes, he realized his sedentary taxi-driver lifestyle was contributing to it. Then he suffered a fall and began attending our fall prevention class. Today Ed exercises two to three hours daily, eats at the Center, and takes nutrition classes. Five months ago, his doctor took him off his diabetes and blood pressure medication, remarking that such a turnaround was unheard of for a man Ed’s age. Ed says he gives credit to the healthy meals and amazing exercise classes at 30th Street Senior Center.”

Mayor Breed had no doubts about the value of Mission Nutrition. “As soon as I turn 60, I’m going to come here to eat. Thank you, Mr. Hall, for creating a program that will continue to serve more and more seniors in the generations to come. I am so happy I am living in a city that takes care of its own.”