By Antonio Ray Harvey, California Black Media 

African American-owned restaurants across California will be able to participate in a new state program that contracts eateries to prepare meals and deliver them to vulnerable senior citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Newsom announced the new “first-in-the-nation” initiative, dubbed “Restaurants Deliver: Home Meals for Seniors,”April 24.

“This partnership will allow restaurants to start rehiring people or keep people currently employed and start preparing meals, three meals a day, seven days a week, and have those meals delivered to our seniors all throughout the state of California,” Gov. Newsom said during his daily press briefing.

The program is being executed in partnership with California counties, cities, and Native American tribes, said the governor, who has a background in the food and beverage industry. Newsom co-founded the Napa-based PlumpJack Winery. Its parent company, the PlumpJack Group’s portfolio includes restaurants, hotels, wine, and event space ventures.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency ( FEMA) is bankrolling 75% of the costs. California, Newsom said, will subsidize the remaining 25% for counties and cities. 

The meals program for seniors is part of a broader initiative organized to support California seniors who are isolating at home, adhering to the state’s coronavirus shelter in place order. The other programs are the “Social Bridging Project,” which brings together 1,000 volunteers to check in on older Californians during the crisis. The other is “Friendship Line California,” a toll-free telephone service that provides emotional support to aging adults across the state.  The California Department of Aging is partnering with the Institute of Aging to roll out this effort.

“Older adults are heroes for being the first Californians to stay at home and save lives. However, they may be struggling to access food, and with the mental health implications of isolation. These programs will make sure our older friends, family, and neighbors have access to the food and friendship they need,” said Director of the California Department of Aging Kim McCoy Wade.

Since the COVID-19 shelter in place began in mid-March, many restaurants across the state have been running at half capacity — only open for pickup and delivery orders. Some of them are not open at all.

Reporting severe drops in their revenues, many African-American restaurateurs in California look at a steady partnership with the state — one that provides a constant flow of income — as a viable option.

The state of California estimates that 1.2 million people over 65 years of age across the state live by themselves, Newsom said. Overall, the state is home to almost six million aging adults.

“It’s not just about the meals,” Newsom said during his daily midday news briefing. “It’s about a human connection, about someone just checking in as they’re delivering those meals and making sure people are okay.”

African Americans account for nearly 11% of COVID-19 deaths in the state, the California Department of Public Health reports. Blacks make up only about 6%  of California’s population of almost 40 million residents.

African Americans also fall behind when it comes to proprietorship and running restaurants. Blacks make up about 13% of the population, but consist of  8% of restaurant owners and the same share of restaurant managers, according to the National Restaurant Association.

Black-owned restaurants may want to be a part of the nutritional aspects of the program that could continue beyond the coronavirus crisis, some advocates for aging Californians say.

According to the state, the “Restaurants Deliver: Home Meals for Seniors” program has two main purposes. The first is to help older and other adults at high risk from COVID-19 to stay home and stay healthy by delivering three nutritious meals a day. The second is to provide an essential economic stimulus to local businesses and workers struggling to stay afloat during the COVID-19 crisis.

As local governments stand up their own nutrition programs over the next few weeks, more information will be provided at ‪https://www.gov.ca.gov.

In the meantime, here are some resources for aging Californians that are available now:

o   Senior citizens can enter their locations into 211.org to find local services, such as nutrition, financial, health care, and housing assistance.

o   Every community has an Aging and Adult Info Line to connect people to services: ‪(800) 510-2020..

o   Seniors can also visit the California Department of Aging’s COVID-19 page (‪www.aging.ca.gov) for a list of resources for older and other at-risk adults.

o   For emotional support, call Friendship Line California @ 1-888-670-1360

“We are all in this together,” said Gov. Newsom. “We will continue to support older Californians who are more at risk during this public health emergency.”

Restaurateurs can get more information and apply to be a part of the “Restaurants Deliver: Home Meals for Seniors” program here.