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One story of need turned into help for hundreds of hungry seniors

Merced resident Tony Rodriguez, 62, places bread into a Senior Brown Bag before distributing them to seniors living at the Sierra Meadows Senior Apartments in Merced, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016. The Merced County Food Bank's Senior Brown Bag Program delivers the groceries twice a month to seniors living in Merced and Mariposa counties.
Merced resident Tony Rodriguez, 62, places bread into a Senior Brown Bag before distributing them to seniors living at the Sierra Meadows Senior Apartments in Merced, Calif., Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016. The Merced County Food Bank's Senior Brown Bag Program delivers the groceries twice a month to seniors living in Merced and Mariposa counties. akuhn@mercedsun-star.com

The inspiration behind a fundraiser for the Merced County Food Bank’s Senior Brown Bag Program started with a story about a woman who called the food bank three years ago, wondering if it was the day for food deliveries, said Erik Ekizian, a local chiropractor in Merced.

Although it wasn’t a food-delivery day, Ekizian told the Sun-Star, the former director of the food bank wanted to make sure the woman had enough food to get by until the next day.

The woman replied, “ ‘I have two tortillas and a can of cat food. I can make it work,’ ” Ekizian said.

The former director went to her house and filled up her pantry that day, he said.

“That was the story that had tears coming down my cheeks,” Ekizian said. “It made me think how fortunate I am not to worry about food.”

That was the story that had tears coming down my cheeks. It made me think how fortunate I am not to worry about food.

Erik Ekizian, a local chiropractor in Merced and founder of Sharing the Harvest with Grateful Hearts

The story resonated with him so much, he said, that he took the problem of food scarcity for elders to the football team he coaches, and the players started a food drive that developed into the Sharing the Harvest with Grateful Hearts Party.

Anybody in the community is welcome to attend, Ekizian said – “All they have to do is bring a brown bag of food to raise awareness.”

The Senior Brown Bag Program is a service for residents ages 55 and older, according to the current executive director for the Merced County Food Bank, Bill Gibbs. A bag filled with food is given out twice a month in 16 cities throughout Merced County and one site in Mariposa County.

“Many seniors still have a lot of bills to pay,” Gibbs said. “That’s why the Senior Brown Bag Program is so important for seniors.”

There’s been difficulty acquiring more-nutritious and higher-quality foods that are more of a necessity for seniors, he said, and the Share the Harvest fundraiser helps to buy those foods.

Seniors have a different need than the regular public, Gibbs said, and most of the time can’t have hard foods or products high in sodium and sugar.

“This event lets us have the funds,” Gibbs said. “Sometimes seniors don’t get the recognition they deserve when it comes to hunger issues.”

Foods like canned meat, peanut butter, pasta, pasta sauce and beans are some items that are good for seniors, Ekizian said.

Last year, Share the Harvest raised $40,000; this year the goal is $60,000, Ekizian said. He said one donation of $60 can help a senior not go hungry.

“Think about others and look outward instead of inward,” Ekizian said.

Jan Wilson, 83, has been helping with the Senior Brown Bag Program at her residency, Sierra Meadows Senior Apartments, since she moved in five years ago, she said. They give out bags of food the second and fourth Thursday of every month from 9 to 11 a.m.

More than 90 residents living at Sierra Meadows are registered for the program, she said, and usually they have a few staples and extra goodies. On Thursday, the bags consisted of beans, lunchmeat, bread, spaghetti sauce, fruit snacks, juice, eggs and bananas.

To some degree, Wilson said, residents depend on the items they receive from the program.

“Most of us are on Social Security and that’s our income,” she said. “Some residents run out of money at the end of the month.”

Most of us are on Social Security and that’s our income. Some residents run out of money at the end of the month.

Jan Wilson, 83, head organizer for the Senior Brown Bag Program at Sierra Meadows Senior Apartments

Raymond Butterfield, 58, regularly receives food from the Senior Brown Bag Program at Sierra Meadows, where he resides, and says the food helps him stretch out the month. He said the program has “quite a bit of impact” for the recipients.

“People here are very well satisfied especially with the brown bag program,” Butterfield said. “It helps when you’re short on money.”

For Sierra Meadows resident Bill Herrera, there was no food in the house on Thursday morning, he said, and, in times like these, it’s nice to have a helping hand.

“Overall, it’s a program that will benefit a lot of people, especially in senior living like this and especially when people are on fixed incomes,” said Herrera, 58. “It helps everybody.”

Wilson said she “hates” even the thought of not having the Senior Brown Bag Program, because when people are out of food near the end of the month, there wouldn’t be an option for them, particularly for those who have no way to get to the food bank.

The third annual Sharing the Harvest with Grateful Hearts Party will take place Nov. 10 from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. at Vista Ranch and Cellars, 7326 East Highway 140 in Merced. Food and beverages will be available, as well as entertainment, raffles and dessert auctions.

Anyone interested in sponsoring or donating to the event can email ekizian@sbcglobal.net or ashleyf@mmcfb.org.

“There’s a need in our community,” Ekizian said. “Let’s fill that need.”

Senior Brown Bag Program sites

Atwater: Atwater Baptist Church, 2124 First St., 9 to 11 a.m., second and fourth Tuesdays of the month

Delhi: New Life, 9694 Hinton Ave., 10 to 11 a.m., second and fourth Fridays of the month

Dos Palos: Carver Center, 21475 Reynolds Ave., 9 to 11 a.m., second and fourth Thrusdays of the month

Gustine: Gustine Gardens, 394 Wallis Ave., Apt. 34, 9 to 11 a.m., second and fourth Thursdays of the month

Hilmar: Hilmar Covenant Church, 20056 American Ave., 9 to 11 a.m., second and fourth Tuesdays of the month

Le Grand: Bible Christian Church, 3782 S. Washington Ave., 10 a.m. to noon, second and fourth Fridays of the month

Livingston: Emmanuel Baptist Church, 1310 Main St., 9 to 11 a.m., second and fourth Tuesdays of the month

Los Banos: New Beginnings Church, 821 W. L St., 9 to 11 a.m., second and fourth Thursdays of the month

Mariposa: Senior Center, 5246 Spriggs Lane, 9 to 11 a.m., first and third Fridays of the month

Merced: Living Well Cafe, 851 W. 23rd St., 9 to 11 a.m., second and fourth Fridays of the month

Merced: Sierra Meadows Senior Apartments, 720 W. 15th St., second and fourth Thursdays of the month

Merced: McDowell Manor, 2870 Park Ave., 9 to 11 a.m., second and fourth Fridays of the month

Planada: Houlihan Park, Stanford Avenue, 9 to 11 a.m., second and fourth Fridays of the month

Santa Nella: Mobile Home Park, 29190 Centinella Road, 9 to 11 a.m., second and fourth Thursdays of the month

Winton: Senior Center, 831 Center St., 9 to 11 a.m., second and fourth Tuesdays of the month

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