By Greg Hernandez
“Don’t act like you know what it is!” teased one man as his friend picked up dandelion greens from one of the tables in the courtyard of the Center’s Village at Ed Gould Plaza.
Both dissolve in laughter as they began filling up their shopping bags. Dandelion greens were just one of the many fresh produce items available for LGBT seniors thanks to a new partnership between the Center and food rescue organization Food Finders.
Starting last fall, on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month, produce from a local farmers’ market is available at The Village to complement the non-perishable items stored in the Senior Services food pantry. Volunteer Amanda Lee-Benvegnu initiated the partnership with Food Finders and picks up the produce twice a month.
“Food Finders has been a wonderful partner and is allowing us to get really high-quality produce for our seniors who really appreciate it,” said the Center’s Director of Senior Services Kiera Pollock. “Having the farmers’ market at The Village is convenient for the seniors who are already coming here for case work and activities. Now they can get fresh food to take home with them without needing to coordinate an extra trip to the grocery store.”
The produce varies each week, ranging from dandelion greens and kale to purple carrots, persimmons, apples, and turnips.
“Beets, beets, beets—that’s what I’m here for!” announced Mario, a retired security officer, as he entered the courtyard. He was in luck. There were plenty of beets to be had on this Tuesday.
“The last time I came here I found these beautiful, sumptuous beets,” he explained. “I took home a big bucket filled with beets. They were delicious. I went through a beets frenzy. I never ate so many beets in my whole life. I’m ready for some more now.”
With many LGBT seniors on fixed incomes, hunger is a major issue. Nearly one-quarter of them don’t have enough food to eat every week.
“My food budget is on a shoestring and I come here to augment what I can’t afford,” retired Marine Corps veteran William Duckworth said as he waited in line. “I’m not the world’s best cook so if I’m not familiar with what it is, I’m not quite sure what to do with it. But if I know the name, I can at least go on the internet and gure out how to cook something with it.”
Bill Kearney, who filled his bag with two different kinds of kale as well as turnips and lemons, identified some of the more unfamiliar produce for his fellow shoppers.
“Sometimes I see people pick up something here and ask, ‘What can I do with this?’” he shared. “I help them decide what to do for cooking, whether they can eat it raw or sauté it. I give them tips like, ‘You can bake the beets in the oven, or you can slice them real thin and grill them. The leaves on those radishes over there, you can use those in a salad.’”
Several seniors say it’s not just a matter of having enough food to eat, it’s also about not always having access to nutritious food. Many of them live in low income areas, often described as “food deserts,” where they’re forced to choose inexpensive, low-quality processed foods over healthier meal choices. That’s why Clarence, a two-time cancer survivor, calls the Center’s new farmers’ market “an absolute treasure.”
“It’s really difficult to eat well, eat fresh, and eat nutritiously on a day-today basis,” he said. “The produce has been a godsend because I’m able to now have salads and eat a lot of mixed greens. Sometimes you open up a can of something, and it’s not always the healthiest. Having some fresh food to supplement it always helps.”
Another senior, David Epstein, says he’s filled with gratitude for the farmers’ market and food pantry.
“In my apartment complex, nobody has enough food to eat by the end of the month,” he says. “Everyone is relying on food banks. It’s hard to tell you what it’s like to be someone who worked, had a paycheck, and provided food for myself. Now, in my golden years, I don’t have enough money for food. It’s frightening and very stressful.”
He adds, after filling a bag with produce: “I would not be able to afford healthy food like this if it were not for this program. I have only $500 a month to live on after I pay my rent. I could not afford good food. And without good food, there goes your health. So, this is a dream come true.”
After informally offering food assistance to seniors for years, the Center expanded its program last year with food pantries at The Village and at Triangle Square. For more information about how to help, visit lalgbtcenter.org/pantry.