The first time Leonard Sazevich heard about Serving Seniors was when the formerly homeless San Diego resident was told about the free meals for older adults at the nonprofit’s Gary & Mary West Senior Wellness Center downtown. For the past several years, Sazevich has been a regular at one of Serving Seniors’ 11 centers where more than 640,000 meals are prepared each year.

With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the centers to shut down and keeping seniors in their homes, Serving Seniors has responded by delivering the free meals to the doors of its clients throughout San Diego.

“It’s been wonderful,” said Sazevich, who is 72. “The entrees they bring you are delicious, they’re healthy, and they’re pretty much ready to eat. I can’t thank them enough. They are making a difference.”

Thanks to a $50,000 grant from the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund, Serving Seniors can continue to double the number of meals delivered – from 6,000 daily in March to 12,000 daily through May. Hired drivers, meanwhile, are trained to check in with their clients while delivering meals, and conversations at a safe physical distance are common.

“Quite frankly, that interaction may be the only interaction many of our seniors have on any particular day,” said Serving Seniors President and CEO Paul Downey, who added that volunteers, who engage in a variety of tasks, call seniors daily to see how they are faring.

The San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund is hosted and administered by The San Diego Foundation in collaboration with San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, co-chair of the county’s COVID-19 subcommittee. Grants are made possible thanks to thousands of donations from donor-advised funds, businesses and individuals. To date, the Fund has granted $7 million to San Diego nonprofits working on the frontline to support low-wage workers, families and vulnerable communities impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.

Founded in 1970, Serving Seniors is a leader in senior advocacy and programming and caters to low-income adults age 60 and over through a comprehensive approach that includes meals, housing, health and social services and lifelong learning opportunities. Working closely with San Diego Aging and Independent Services, Serving Seniors is the largest provider of meals to seniors in the county and one of the only organizations in the nation providing such a robust range of services to vulnerable, at-risk older adults.

The stresses created by the coronavirus have affected seniors more than anyone.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting our seniors in a variety of ways, both tangible and intangible,” Downey said. “Older people are more susceptible to the virus and its effects because of underlying health conditions so they are not going to the grocery store, they are not going to the senior center, they are not seeing their children or grandchildren. That leaves them not only in danger of going hungry because they can’t get food, but it also leaves them dealing with social isolation. They are not having the physical contact.”

For Sazevich, Serving Seniors has been a godsend. Not only did the nonprofit provide him with daily meals when he was living on the street, he also was able to access medical care. Six years ago, he moved into a Serving Seniors subsidized apartment on 14th Street.

“I hear the term ‘Golden Years’ all the time, but when you’re living on the street you’d be happy with cheap bronze instead of gold,” he said. “Between the housing, the social activities, the health care, the meals, they’ve extended my life and the life of so many others. I can’t thank them enough. They are making a difference.”

Added Downey: “There still remains a tremendous need. The needs of our seniors are profound.”

You can help San Diegans in need by donating today.