Richard Parker, 62, knows what it’s like to go to bed without having a proper meal. But being provided with a free lunch five days a week at the Los Angeles LGBT Center has made all the difference for Parker—especially during the pandemic.
“What they serve here is very nutritious and healthy.” he said after picking up a lunch consisting of chef’s salad, whole grain roll and cantaloupe.
Parker recently joined other seniors in a campaign urging the City of Los Angeles Department of Aging to approve multi-year funding for the programs and services provided from the Center’s Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Senior Center. Instead of making a phone call or writing a letter, the seniors were photographed in the courtyard of the Anita May Rosenstein Campus holding up signs with such messages as: “Thank You For Fighting To Provide Meals to LGBT Seniors Like Me!” “Fight for LGBT Seniors!” and “Speak Up for LGBT Seniors!”
“We’re hoping to convey the joy and the community that the Center provides to the seniors,” explained Jessica Parral, policy advocate and community organizer for the Center. “We need the city to see there is a continuing need from the community for services specific to the LGBT population. They need to know why seniors come to the Center rather than other senior centers around the city. Our seniors know that we’re culturally competent, that our providers care about their specific needs as LGBT older adults, and that we have a loving and welcoming atmosphere.“
The Center received the first-ever LGBT-specific senior funding from the city for the 2020-21 fiscal year in the amount of $450,000. This much-needed financial boost to operate the city’s first and only LGBT specific mini-multipurpose senior center came as Senior Services went into overdrive to help its clients get through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We cannot underscore enough the urgency in ensuring that LGBT older adults continue to receive the care they need to survive the COVID-19 crisis and afterwards, which is why we are requesting support from city leaders in renewing funding for the 2021-2022 budget cycle,” Parrel explained.
The Center sees more than 50,000 client visits each month and LGBT seniors represent its fastest growing client population.
Of the close to 3,000 LGBT seniors who regularly access the wide range of programs including case management, housing navigation, food pantry, employment assistance, support groups, and social isolation interventions, the vast majority are low-income and depend on the Center for basic needs.
An estimated 47 percent of the seniors accessing the Center’s services live on less than $2,000 a month and 23 percent live on less than $1,000 a month. Nearly 15 percent of clients are homeless older adults and approximately 50 percent are spending half or more of their income on housing.
In the early days of the pandemic, in-person programs and activities were suspended and offered virtually. The daily lunches, normally served inside, continue to be served as take-out meals. Prepared by students of the Center’s Culinary Arts program, the meals also are also delivered to residents of the Center’s Triangle Square, the first LGBT-affirming affordable housing in the nation.
Also created during the pandemic was the Center’s Senior Angels program, an emergency delivery system to drop off care packages to those in need. Senior Angels works in concert with the Center’s Hello Club in which volunteers regularly call seniors to check in on them and to assess their needs.
“We need all the services, especially the meals, during these difficult times,” explained 60-year-old senior client Marcella Velez. “I come 3 to 4 times a week. They are healthy meals, and I love the desserts they give.”
Nellie Sorretino, 77, also has been visiting almost every weekday to pick up lunch.
“I’m old, and I don’t want to cook by myself,” she said. “Here, the meal is already prepared. It’s hot, good, and very nutritious. For me it’s very easy to come over here. It has made my life better. I miss eating inside [the Senior Center]—I miss that very much. We were very comfortable. I miss my coffee and meeting nice people, very lovely people.”
To learn more about the Center’s Senior Services, including upcoming activities and workshops, visit lalgbtcenter.org/seniors.