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Local Food Programs for Seniors

March 28, 1985|ROSE DOSTI | Times Staff Writer

The following report on how the elderly eat touches upon but a few of the many meal and nutrition programs available to the elderly. We have included the homeless, participants in the government-funded nutrition programs available to all seniors and those fortunate enough to live independent lives at Leisure World in Laguna Hills.

It is suggested that those who wish information about federally funded nutrition and other programs for the elderly should call 485-4402 or the county's referral and information number, 857-6466. Also available for those who wish the nutritional services of a dietitian is the L.A. Dietitians Information and Referral hot-line number, 934-4741.

The Union Rescue Mission of Los Angeles: We are in the anteroom of the immaculate mess hall, where about 200 homeless men, women and children wait silently for the lunch announcement, as if they were in church. A man in a blue serge suit is playing background music on an old grand piano.

The doors of the mess hall open, and there is a scurry, first by the women and children who are then allowed to partake in the lunchtime fare at the mission, then by the very old and finally by the younger homeless.

One of the diners is Joe Bailey, who is 62 but looks to be in his 70s. His job as secretary and bookkeeper vanished, and he has been out of work and money for years. He takes three meals a day at the mission. He is one of the regulars.

Roy Swarthout, 77, also eats at the mission. He had been hospitalized for the last two years and is without a job.

The relief center is a nonprofit organization with no governmental support since 1891. Most of the contributions are from individuals, churches and other organizations. The mission is also one of the endorsed agencies of the Los Angeles Department of Social Services.

The walk-in as well as live-in clientele represents only a speck of the homeless in the city. The mission serves only about 1,500 meals daily, of which only 12% are consumed by the elderly from the street. About 90% are men and 10% are women, whose population is increasing day by day, according to Lee Holthaus, executive director.

There are 300 sleeping beds available, and as many as 500 persons sleep on chairs. Only men are allowed in the mission shelter. Temporary quarters are available to women at two homes operated by the mission's outreach program. No one is turned away for food.

Even if the quality of the food at the mission is not always ideal, quantity seems to be no problem, according to Holthaus. "There is plenty of food down here. The problem is distribution and manpower to handle it. We don't have control on the issue."

Donations make up about 20% to 25%, and government subsidy, another 30% to 40%.

"The remainder of food purchased depends on price bids on items from markets. There is donated food from private individuals and some from meat companies who are cleaning out inventory. Sometimes farmers donate produce they can't get rid of, and restaurant food in excellent condition is accepted," Holthaus said.

"We are fairly low on dairy products because they are highest in cost. Cheese from the (U.S. Department of Agriculture) will end up in cheese sandwiches or distributed as is. Dry milk is not enjoyed by the diners," said Mark Holthaus, Lee's son and the mission's public information officer.

For breakfast, which ideally is based on the Basic Four Food Group diet, scrambled eggs with country bacon, home fries, hot oatmeal with prunes, toast, coffee and juice are served.

Lunch might include a shepherd's pie, tossed salad, bread, canned peaches and fruit drink beverage. No milk is served at lunch.

At supper the participant might find spaghetti and meat sauce, garlic toast, green salad and lemon pudding. Again, grape drink and tea are served.

On the day this writer visited, the elderly who slipped into the long oilcloth-covered tables were served sloppy Joes, bread, cake and coffee. Missing was milk or some other dairy product and fruit or vegetable.

Federal Nutrition Programs: By far the most widespread nutrition program available to the elderly throughout Los Angeles and the nation is what is commonly called Meals on Wheels, provided by the U.S. Administration of Aging under the Older American Act established in 1965 to all persons older than 60, regardless of nationality or race.

In large part a misnomer, Meals on Wheels actually refers to a small portion of the program that provides meals to homebound individuals in Los Angeles County. The major portion of the program, in both city and county, provides so-called congregate meals at various public and private sites, including churches, recreation and park facilities, restaurants, social and community clubs and the like.

While there is the normal share of problems with funding and administration, the programs for the most part are better than anything else the government has yet to offer its elderly citizens, as far as nutritional services go.

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