California Aims to Deliver Food to Seniors During Coronavirus Pandemic

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Great Plates Delivered aims to feed seniors in need during the coronavirus pandemic and help restaurants at the same time.  (Polly Stryker/KQED )

A state-led plan to deliver food to seniors sheltering from the pandemic is getting off the ground, but slowly, and not everywhere.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Great Plates Delivered with two goals: feed seniors who must stay at home to minimize the risk of coronavirus, and stoke business for restaurants starved of patrons.

Click here for more about the Bay Area communities participating in the program.

“This partnership will allow for the ability for restaurants to start rehiring people or keep people currently employed,” Newsom said, at an April 24 press briefing.

The program relies largely on money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay restaurants, and on counties and cities to recruit participants.


But Newsom’s announcement took some local officials by surprise.

“Literally within 10 minutes, our hotline started ringing pretty much off the hook,” said Lisa Mancini, director of San Mateo County’s Aging and Adult Services.

Still, she says the county welcomed the opportunity: “We know the need is out there,” she says.

Her team is now working toward a goal of bringing about a thousand seniors three restaurant meals a day, and Mancini says restaurants eager for customers are signing up.

“So if there’s any way to get this to work, we want to put our full force behind it,” she says.

But rural and small counties have expressed skepticism of the program, its initially short timeline -- FEMA originally said money had to be spent by May 10 -- and the potential for red tape. Solano County Emergency Services Manager Don Ryan told supervisors at the county’s most recent meeting Tuesday that Solano, like “lots of counties, almost 30 counties,” is opting out “because the restrictions are so complicated.”

Ryan says he’s worried about the money.

“If we do it wrong, we’re not reimbursed,” he said. “If we do it right, a lot of people are not even going to be eligible for it.”

San Mateo County is one of just six counties, and a handful of cities, listed on the state’s website as participating.


How to Participate in Great Plates Delivered

Who’s Eligible for Great Plates?

According to the state’s FAQ:

  • Low-income seniors over 65 (seniors whose income is less than 6 times the federal poverty limit, or about $75,000)
  • Californians 60 to 64, who have health conditions that raise their risk for the virus, who have been exposed to the virus, or who have tested positive for COVID-19
  • For both of these categories, seniors must live alone or with one other person who also qualifies for the program; participants must confirm they can’t prepare meals on their own
  • Seniors already receiving meals from a federally funded program like CalFRESH or Meals on Wheels are ineligible

Even with these limitations, more than a million seniors statewide are likely to qualify.

In what cities and counties can seniors sign up for Great Plates Delivered?

  • San Mateo County: call 1-800-675-8437
  • San Jose and other cities in Santa Clara County: call 408-350-3200– Option 1
  • Contra Costa County: call 800-510-2020
  • Seaside in Santa Cruz County: call 831-899-6809 or 831-899-6821 (Santa Cruz County has sought businesses to participate, but hasn’t announced a formal program)

Who’s paying for this?

  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency is picking up 75% of the cost.
  • The State of California pays for 75% of the remaining quarter of the tab.
  • Local communities pick up the remaining 6 cents on the dollar, but get to keep the sales tax from the transactions.

What do restaurants get for participating?

  • $16 for breakfast
  • $17 for lunch
  • $27 for dinner
  • $5 for “incidental expenses.”