Every month, we invite one of our team members to sit down with us and tell us more about their journey to Elder Care Alliance, their role now, and their insights into older adult care. We are excited to share the expertise and knowledge of our many team members who every day come to work and help our residents live their best lives with us.
Today we welcome Janice Roberts, Program Director of the Mercy Brown Bag Program.
Us: Hi, Janice! Tell us a little about your background and role at Elder Care Alliance.
Janice: I’m new to ECA – chartered with the important task of leading the Mercy Brown Bag Program. I was thrilled to be chosen for this critical role. Last year, in the midst of COVID, the team provided groceries and nutrient-rich food to 9,000 food-insecure older adults in the East Bay!
My background is a bit unusual for the role. I came out of tech marketing, most recently starting a company (which I turned over to my co-founder). In search of a more meaningful way of spending my time and talent, a neighbor who is a volunteer with Brown Bag suggested I might want to consider the role being vacated by the legendary Krista Lucchesi, who had been here for 15 years.
Overseeing Brown Bag is a complex operation, with a grocery on-site at Mercy Retirement Center, a mobile grocery (and one more on the way), and trucks and Door Dash delivering to dozens of low-income senior centers in the East Bay. Many of my skills are transferrable to this world, and the role definitely met the criteria of serving others and adding new levels of richness to my days.
Honestly, I can’t think of anything more important than feeding people who are unable to fully provide for themselves. Stories from our recipients are heart-warming, and I am particularly happy to be working and helping my own community, where I have lived for more than 20 years.
Us: How does your work benefit residents of the East Bay and our community?
Janice: There was an article in the current issue of the Journal of Philanthropy that talks about the systemic issue of hunger in our nation and its effect on wellness. The article reports that one in two Americans suffer from chronic illnesses that are largely linked to poor diets, including diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. Additionally, a stunning 90% of government healthcare spending goes toward these preventable diseases.
Brown Bag is a very direct, local solution to addressing this need. And it has successfully operated in Oakland, making inroads and addressing issues of elder hunger, nutrition and socialization for 40 years! It is a “best-kept secret,” in my opinion.
We are a small but mighty team powered by extraordinary volunteers and almost 90 fantastic partners providing crucial services to the community. Last month alone, we distributed 200 tons of food to older adults in need. Analyzing the groceries we delivered and shared, roughly half were fresh fruits and vegetables, and another 40% were whole grains, healthy proteins and dairy. Only 10% were canned or packed goods.
I have called Oakland home for over 20 years, so this is a very exciting and rewarding way to spend my days.
Us: What is one of your favorite memories or experiences working at Elder Care Alliance?
Janice: Let me just say that the people at Mercy are some of the best, kindest and most capable I have worked with in my career. Their can-do attitude, resourcefulness and focus on our recipients are admirable in every way.
We recently lost a truck driver who moved with his family to Arkansas in search of a lower cost of living. My operations manager, David Bolanos, has jumped in to help and is driving a truck himself to ensure no deliveries are left undone. The head of our volunteer team, Jen Werner, is overseeing our new grocery store we opened in 2022, covering for David. And the head of external operations, Jazmin Gomez, is working with our sites to make sure everyone is on board with correct expectations.
Last month we served 1,200 low-income seniors who visited the store shopping for fresh melons, eggs and vegetables of all kinds (e.g. bok choy, brussels sprouts, broccoli and fresh citrus). We are all very inspired by the needs of these seniors who depend on Brown Bag for a better life.
Us: What is the greatest reward that your role at Elder Care Alliance brings?
Janice: My mom turns 99 next week. She is sort of miraculous, still in good health and sharp as a tack. She is visited frequently by her six children and really lacks for very little. This is the bar I would like to set for all of our older adults in the East Bay. I believe it is the vision the Sisters of Mercy and the residents at Mercy Retirement and Care Center had when they first started gathering food for their food-insecure neighbors in Oakland 40 years ago.
The reward is so evident when you see and speak with recipients who are able to enjoy good food and are now also able to afford their medications and housing. These seniors belong to other sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and it is our privilege and honor to serve them. How could we ask for more?
Us: Can you share any insights into new programs, menus, etc. you are planning for the future?
Janice: Yes. My predecessor was a visionary and had deep knowledge and experience in serving older adults through Mercy Brown Bag. She has already set in motion a second mobile grocery store, soon to come online. (If anyone knows of a great driver interested in the mission of serving seniors in our community, I’d lot to talk to him or her!).
And shortly, we hope to provide vending machines to dispense food as needed in low-income senior centers as part of a market test (in conjunction with the California Department on Aging and our partners at Alameda County). Stay tuned for exciting new points of distribution.
If anyone wants to participate and help the Mercy Brown Bag program, they can call our office directly at 510-534-8547, Ext. 369. Or to volunteer, donate or sign up for Brown Bag Services, go to our website (www.mercybrownbag.org).