Community Bridges hired Darren Daley to take over as program director for Meals on Wheels for Santa Cruz County when Lisa Berkowitz caps off her four-decade career with the program in August.
Daley earned his Master of Public Administration in International Management from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey in 2011.
More recently, he was based in Laos working as the managing director for Global Association for People and the Environment, a nonprofit that focuses on food security, environmental sustainability, and preserving cultural traditions in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.
“After more than a decade working in community development overseas, I’m thrilled to return to the Central Coast to support my community, especially the older adults of Santa Cruz County,” Daley said. “With significant increases in the cost of living, it’s incredibly important that we as a community work together to ensure food security for the rapidly growing older adult population.”
“We are so incredibly excited to be able to welcome Darren into our organization,” Community Bridges CEO Ray Cancino said. “His experience and strong commitment to support food insecurity and his deep commitment toward supporting older adults is what is needed after having such a strong directorship and leadership from Lisa Berkowitz who has been leading the program for decades.”
Berkowitz was first hired as the food service director of the Golden Age Nutrition Program, the predecessor to Meals on Wheels for Santa Cruz County, in July 1979, three years after the program was founded.
Under her leadership, Meals on Wheels for Santa Cruz County has surpassed 10 million meals served since its founding. Annually, the program provides more than 235,000 meals thanks to a staff of 16 employees and more than 50 volunteers.
“Lisa has built a strong and dedicated program that has been able to meet our community’s needs regardless of the resources available, the circumstances surrounding us and or the increase of the need. She has figured out a way to truly get to a vision of trying to ensure no senior ever goes hungry and has worked her whole career in making that a reality. We are so fortunate to have had her here and in that role,” Cancino said.
More than 1,500 older adults rely on Meals on Wheels for Santa Cruz County for food security, and a majority are isolated and disabled elders living below the poverty line, according to Community Bridges. The number of participants who need meals delivered to their homes doubled during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I encourage everyone to contact their elected officials, especially your county supervisors and city councilmembers, and ask them to support older adult services in our community,” Berkowitz said. “We’re seeing a rapid increase in the older adult population and there’s an urgent need for increased investment to address the critical need for additional services.”
Meals on Wheels for Santa Cruz County is also in the process of finding a new home, as plans to redevelop the Live Oak Senior Center site into workforce housing are being developed by the Live Oak School District, which owns the property. Meals on Wheels for Santa Cruz County has called the Live Oak Senior Center home since 1977.