Summer has taken on a new flavor for area seniors, thanks to a partnership between the Philadelphia Archdiocese and a produce supplier for some of the city’s top restaurants.
Archdiocesan Catholic Housing and Community Services (CHCS) and Giordano Garden Groceries recently teamed up to provide fruits, vegetables and dairy items to some 250 older adults served by CHCS.
The archdiocesan agency provides a continuum of care to the region’s seniors through activity centers, in-home support and affordable housing.
Meeting clients’ nutritional needs is critical to that outreach, said CHCS executive director Heather Huot, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left “older adults … incredibly vulnerable.”
Giordano’s, which serves the acclaimed Vetri and Starr restaurant groups, prepared its signature “Fresh Essential” boxes for the effort, even dropping them off to CHCS clients who were without shopping assistance.
Owner Marcello Giordano, a member of St. Matthias Parish in Bala Cynwyd, said that he “grew up delivering boxes of produce” to the elderly and homebound.
As part of his family’s business ethic, his firm refused to raise its prices to capitalize on COVID-related demand.
“You don’t take advantage of people in that situation,” said Giordano. “If I could have afforded it, I would have simply given it all away.”
Seniors have been “touched by the quality” of the produce, he added, with recipients calling Giordano’s staff to commend them.
“I can’t brag enough about their products,” said Agnes Muto, a resident at CHCS’s St. John Neumann Place in South Philadelphia. “Beautiful, fresh, number one — top notch!”
“That’s the nature of my business,” said Giordano, who had resolved to “knock people’s socks off” with his home deliveries.
The boxes are equally impressive for their nutritional value. Studies have shown that fresh fruits and vegetables, which are widely recommended by medical professionals, are particularly beneficial for seniors. Diets rich in plant-based foods have been demonstrated to reduce the likelihood of heart disease, stroke and chronic conditions such as hypertension and atherosclerosis. Research has also indicated that fruit and vegetable intake can offset cognitive decline, bone loss and several kinds of cancer.
CHCS client Ed Sparkevicius, who was delighted by the assortment of “raspberries, blueberries and all kinds of vegetables,” would agree with those findings. A resident of the city’s Port Richmond section, Sparkevicius said that fresh produce was important for his health, especially since he’s been battling both cancer and heart disease.
“I have two stents from a heart attack a few years back, and I’m three years now with cancer,” he said. “I really, really appreciate this help, especially since I’m on a fixed income.”
Sparkevicius learned of CHCS through a neighbor who regularly attends activities at the agency’s Nativity B.V.M. Senior Center, which along with the agency’s three other senior centers has been providing “grab-and-go” food packages for Philadelphia residents aged 60 and older. Since mid-March, CHCS has distributed close to 17,500 frozen meals through the sites.
The portions have “helped out big time,” said Sparkevicius.
In addition, the agency is monitoring seniors’ mental and emotional well-being, as many older adults have experienced mental distress due to weeks of social isolation under stay-at-home orders.
Karen Becker, CHCS’s director of senior center services, and her team have stepped up phone calls to clients, checking for signs of depression while providing lists of mental health resources.
“We call them a few times a week,” said Becker, adding that “most want to stay on the phone quite some time,” since the interactions are often the only interpersonal contact seniors have for days or even weeks on end.
Sparkevicius said that beginning March 13, he spent 90 days in his house due to COVID restrictions and fears of contracting the deadly virus.
“I only took my first step outside two weeks ago,” he said. “I’m on the virus’s hit list, and I didn’t want to push any buttons.”
The concern shown by CHCS staff has been a lift to the spirits, said Sparkevicius, who described Nativity B.V.M. Senior Center manager Jennifer Scornaienchi as “one great person.”
Huot noted that CHCS’s fresh produce initiative was a team effort, with funding made possible through The W. W. Smith Charitable Trust and the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.
“This (collaboration) is a prime example of community resources coming together to make a tangible impact,” she said.
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