Edible Monterey Bay

Local Diners Join California’s Great Plates Program

May 5, 2020 – Diners have long been many things to many Americans: a community gathering place, a late-night refuge, a comfort food haven.

So it’s fitting that the first two restaurants in the Monterey Bay area to begin partnering with their respective cities on “Great Plates Delivered: Home meals for Seniors”—bringing nutrition and comfort to local seniors three meals a day—are diners.

In Seaside, currently the only local municipality listed on the state’s home page for the senior-restaurant meal program, the retro Googie Grill on Del Monte Avenue is the first diner.

Manager Jen Kadosh had been eager to get involved however possible in coronavirus related initiatives (including feeding emergency workers through programs like COVID Meals) but hadn’t been able to sync with any of them. So when she saw the Edible Monterey Bay piece on how local seniors and restaurants can sign up, she was the first to call the Monterey County Area Agency on Aging (831-755-4466), which helps lead the program in Monterey County.

But it wasn’t the Agency on Aging that connected Googie to the city of Seaside. Rather it was Seaside Senior programs coordinator Blanca Diaz taking the initiative to check with area restaurants on interest and eligibility once she learned the city was approved as a program administrator late last week.

With each who expressed interest she took them through the state requirements, which include nutritional standards, budget considerations and the ability to prep three daily meals. Googie checks all the boxes and was approved by the state Monday.

A working menu for a day goes like this: pancakes, scrambled eggs and fruit for breakfast; a turkey sandwich on a French roll with house salad and a fruit cup for lunch; and chicken piccata with lemon caper sauce, mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables and a fruit cup for dinner.

“It seemed like a perfect fit,” Diaz says. “It’s locally owned, obviously employs locals, is doing its best to stay afloat, and is able to provide all three meals.”

Kadosh is hopeful they add seniors to the program quickly, but more than anything is relieved to take at least a little pressure off of her staff.

“I just really hope it gets more staff working,” she says. “I’m glad to be helping the seniors—and to help any way I can—but the families of the people who work here are the most directly important to me personally.”

Like restaurants, seniors must also qualify. Those 65 and older and 60-64 with preexisting conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19 are eligible, if they aren’t participating in a current food assistance program and their household doesn’t exceed two people or income ceilings. Diaz is conducting screenings on an ongoing basis, and hopeful that if a senior doesn’t meet the stricter Great Plates guidelines she can enroll them in the city’s pantry program or Meals on Wheels.

“It’s really cool that they’re offering it to seniors that need it,” Diaz says. “A lot of seniors we’re serving won’t qualify, but I’m excited to see what new populations we’ll be able to reach.”

In neighboring Marina, the city awaits confirmation as a program administrator. Daddy’s City Diner awaits a subsequent approval from the state, but long ago won the approval of local eaters with its welcoming family-run atmosphere and strapping four-egg omelets. (Of late Pacific-leaning plates like the “Filipino breakfast” and loco moco have been a big hit via their takeout service.)

City of Marina Recreation Director Terry Siegrist is a regular at Daddy’s and helping run citywide COVID-19 food distribution programs. His familiarity with the family spot and knowledge that Daddy’s does a senior menu led him to call co-owner-operator Gina Fajilan with a heads up. 

She completed the state admission questionnaire and is currently developing an adapted senior menu with her husband and chef/co-owner Bob.

“We feel really good about this because we’re so connected to this community,” she says. “There’s not much we can do out-of-pocket because we’re in survival mode so this means a lot. We’re community-service-driven people.”

In Santa Cruz, Senior Network Services (831-462-1433) is gathering names of seniors hoping to join the program to eventually turn over to Santa Cruz County, which is administering the program for that side of Monterey Bay.

Roughly 30 seniors have added their names. “They’re very interested,” says executive director Brenda Moss. “Our pledge is when we find out something concrete, we will certainly let them know.”

Earlier today Santa Cruz County published a statement requesting details from interested restaurant vendors by way of email (eoc032@santacruzcounty.us) no later than 4pm May 11.

Parties must include:

• Brief description of your food service restaurant or facility. 

• Proposed example of menu to be served to meet the requirements. 

• Please include your average daily cost per person. This should be broken down into meal costs (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks), delivery costs, and admin costs. Reimbursement will be based on a daily cost to provide meal service per person. 

• State if your restaurant would be willing to donate 6.25 percent of the meals delivered to count as the local share of cost. 

• Date when service could begin. 

More on the Request for Information is available on the county website.

While the new Great Plates name would come later, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the launch of what he describes as a “first-in-the-nation” program April 24, citing two purposes:

1. Help seniors and other adults at high risk from COVID-19 to stay home and stay healthy by delivering three nutritious meals a day, and 

2. Provide essential economic stimulus to local businesses struggling to stay afloat during the COVID-19 crisis.

Its sunset date is currently set as June 10.