Older adults shuffle around tables piled with food
Older adults shuffle around tables piled with food at the Live Oak Senior Nutrition Center held at the Los Gatos United Methodist Church. Photo by Annalise Freimarck.

Los Gatos seniors wait patiently to pick two food items, while eyeing tables piled with essentials such as meat and bread. Then it’s a free-for-all as roughly 70 participants load their arms and bags with groceries for the week.

Janet Penney, 75 in June, sits down to chat with her friends and munch on banana bread. Penney, who has been unhoused for roughly two-and-a-half years and lives in her car in Los Gatos, comes to the Live Oak Senior Nutrition Center for lunch and groceries five days a week.

“I wouldn’t be able to go to a restaurant every day and you can’t cook in the car,” she told San José Spotlight. “People are very nice. All of the volunteers do a very good job.”

Rental assistance and hunger relief programs like the one Penney relies on could see a financial boost, after community advocates submitted proposals to the Los Gatos Town Council pushing for more funding to address what they say is a growing need.

An older man and woman sit at a table looking away from the camera
Unhoused resident Janet Penney and San Jose resident Arnold Breit are grocery recipients of the Live Oak Senior Nutrition Center in Los Gatos. The program could see a financial boost from town funding. Photo by Annalise Freimarck.

The council unanimously earmarked an additional $25,000 for nutrition and rent relief programs during budget discussions last week. The money, which stems from the general fund, was reallocated from a stalled downtown streetscapes project.

The funds will be doled out to nonprofits and local leaders selected from the community grant application process, which will be available this summer. The council also reserved $100,000 for unspecified community grant funds.

Kathy Mlinarich, executive director of the Live Oak center for roughly seven years, submitted a proposal to the council advocating for an additional $22,000 for the program. The center already receives roughly $22,000 through an existing agreement with the town.

In about a year, if the program doesn’t receive additional funding, it will have to turn people away because it will only be able to serve 53 people — even though it sees 80 to 90 individuals per day, five days a week.

She said she would be grateful for the bump, but eventually wants to secure more funding to meet the needs of the expanding program, which serves adults aged 60 and older, many of whom she said are house-rich and cash-poor.

“The way we’re growing, it’s gonna be a Band-Aid, right? (But) a good Band-Aid,” she told San José Spotlight.

Additionally, the money could fund more rent relief programs outside of the $15,000 a year the town gives to homelessness and hunger nonprofit West Valley Community Services through an existing agreement.

The town does not run its own rent relief program for the roughly 35% of residents who rent, but relies on partnerships with faith leaders and nonprofits such as parishioners at St. Vincent de Paul at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception and the Los Gatos Anti-Racism Coalition (LGARC). The proposal for more rent relief funding, spearheaded by LGARC President Jeff Suzuki and supported by 10 advocates, asked for an extra $15,000.

Tim O’Rorke, Vincentian at St. Vincent de Paul at St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception, said the town went above and beyond the initial proposal and he couldn’t ask for more. Over the past eight months, the church has doled out $19,700 in rent relief, he said.

“There’s just no end to the need,” O’Rorke told San José Spotlight. “I do believe that the money will be used appropriately and it’s going to benefit people greatly by getting them through temporary emergency, crisis situations.”

The funding comes after this publication published a piece detailing Shelly’s story, a resident struggling to make rent who received help from the community.

Shelly, who asked to only use her first name to protect her privacy, said she’s glad the town is stepping up to help its residents.

“I know that I’m not the only one that’s in a bad position right now,” she told San José Spotlight. “I know there are other people that are struggling.”

The town council will finalize the parameters of the community grant program, including the rent and hunger relief earmarks, at its June 18 meeting.

Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Comment Policy (updated 5/10/2023): Readers are required to log in through a social media or email platform to confirm authenticity. We reserve the right to delete comments or ban users who engage in personal attacks, hate speech, excess profanity or make verifiably false statements. Comments are moderated and approved by admin.

Leave a Reply