WATSONVILLE — Every day, a team of volunteers disperses throughout the county to bring meals to an average of 400 low-income seniors.
The deliveries by Meals on Wheels — and its umbrella organization Community Bridges — is just one of the services that connect the county’s aging population with the nutritional services they need.
Some 200 people come to five senior centers throughout the county to get a hot meal, along with about 70 people at the county’s Elderday center.
All of these services come thanks largely to a team of volunteers and workers who every day perform such tasks as cooking, serving, driving and delivering the food.
For one week a year, the volunteers are joined by elected officials and other community leaders as a way to cast light on the importance of the organization.
Community Champions Week is part of a nationwide campaign that aims to increase awareness and encourage support for senior nutrition needs and services.
Organization officials say the participation is a way to experience firsthand the impact of such services.
Santa Cruz County Fourth District Supervisor Greg Caput, whose district includes much of Watsonville, helped Thursday by delivering meals to residents of the Resetar Residential Hotel.
He said he volunteered with seniors when he was younger, which he said opened his eyes to the needs of that population.
“I saw how important it was,” he said. “It’s more than just giving a meal. It’s also about the daily contact. Eventually, you become friends.”
The services are more than a way to feed hungry seniors, Meals on Wheels Program Director Lisa Berkowitz said. For many, the delivery can be the only social interaction they get.
“We want to make the public aware of the issues regarding senior hunger, and the fact that we have a rapidly aging senior population,” Berkowitz said. “And it’s very difficult to meet the needs of this population with the funding we have.”
According to Berkowitz, the population of people over 60 has increased by almost 43 percent since 2011. Some 40 percent don’t have enough money to meet their basic needs.
The daily interaction is also a chance for the delivery people to check up on their clients, and to take note of possible medical problems, she said.
“Many of the seniors tell us that they are grateful for the contact they are receiving,” Berkowitz said. “We’re letting them know that there is still someone out there that cares about them. We’re taking care of their heart and soul at the same time.”
Run by Community Bridges, Meals on Wheels for Santa Cruz County has served more than 9 million meals to 60,000 local seniors since its inception in 1976.
Some 200 volunteers work to serve around 150,000 meals per year.