Great Plates Delivered: Cafe Owner Trying to Revive Meal Program for Seniors

The federally funded, county administered program ended July 9

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Café Madeleine owner Christine Perez kept her cafe open with help from the government, and has been paying it forward serving free meals to seniors through her Great Plates Delivered program.

FEMA funding helped keep dozens of San Diego businesses open during the pandemic.

“We were blessed to keep the restaurant open and employees working. I feel we got in touch with a population of San Diego we don’t see in cafes often, and it would be nice to give to them and in turn give back to the community," explained Perez.

The Great Plates Delivered program helped seniors whose income was too high for some programs but had difficulty going to the store or a restaurant. Marigold Hernly, 79, was the perfect candidate because she has a foot infection that makes shopping difficult.

“It aggravates it,” Hernly said. “I have to stay off my feet.”

Hernly said the program "was a gift from God. It was truly a gift from God."

But that FEMA-funded gift that provided three free meals a day ended July 9.

County officials say there are other options available to seniors of any income level, but Hernly wonders whether her improved health will continue with the other programs after what her doctor said during a recent visit.

“He says, 'Your protein level hasn't been this high in 10 years.' I said it's helping on every level, the program is," she explained.

While the program seems to have helped Hernly’s health, Perez said the program provided her employees a special connection with some of the hundred plus seniors  they served.

“We started to look at them as family," she said.

Great Plates Delivered helped fill the gap, serving people whose income was too high to qualify for other programs.

In a statement, FEMA said that because California removed nearly all restrictions it decided to make July 9th its final extension. "The state will be required to justify how eligible populations remain food insecure given the high uptake in vaccinations," the statement read in part.

The state issued a statement saying “local nonprofit and governmental social service organizations may review the FEMA-funded emergency food and shelter program to supplement and expand ongoing efforts.”

Café Madeleine’s owner is now looking to continue a similar program through public or private partnership.

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