Plated Up

The team at Angelina’s Bakery prepares chicken and potatoes for lunch. “Great Plates has been a life-changing program,” says owner OB Bonilla. “We are so proud to do it.”

In the Before Times, Angelina’s Bakery was a morning destination, offering coffee alongside an impressive pastry case, plus some modest breakfast and lunch options. That’s still their approach three days a week. But another three days, the Bonilla family that runs the business is not just baking sweets – they’re cooking three square meals a day and delivering them to the doorsteps of 57 Seaside senior citizens.

Breakfast might be oatmeal, yogurt parfait or a breakfast burrito, followed by lunches like salad nicoise or a Reuben sandwich, and then dinner gets fancier – poached salmon, rack of lamb, barbecue chicken or prime rib.

It’s part of the Great Plates Delivered program, a government-sponsored effort to stimulate the restaurant industry by paying them to cook and deliver food, and also to keep vulnerable seniors at home during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It’s an amazing program,” says OB Bonilla, who owns Angelina’s Bakery. “You kill three birds with one stone. You are keeping businesses open; you are keeping the elderly safe; and it is good for the state.”

Great Plates launched last year for eligible seniors 65 or older, who are generally higher income than those enrolled in other government programs. To qualify, participants can earn between 200 and 600 percent of the federal poverty level (roughly $24,000 to $72,000 for a single person) and not receive other benefits like CalFresh.

In Monterey County’s program, there are 288 active participants all over the county, except in Seaside, where the city runs its own program.

For Seaside’s program, Angelina’s switches off with Googie Grill, each cooking and delivering three days a week. (Bonilla estimates Great Plates now comprises 30 percent of his business.) The county program is contracting with seven restaurants, serving 22 to 62 participants each. They are Mezzaluna Pasteria in Pacific Grove; Pasta Mia, Main Street Bakery and Monterey Coast Brewing in Salinas; Stevie’s in Prunedale; Denny’s in Marina (with a special menu developed by a dietitian) ; and Coastal Cuisine & Catering, based in Monterey.

Each restaurant receives $66 per day per client, and then it’s up to them to cost out ingredients, labor and delivery costs for three meals that meet nutrition requirements.

“For struggling businesses, it’s really an economic boost. Restaurants are totally grateful for it,” says Diana Jimenez, deputy director of Aging and Adult Services in the Monterey County Department of Social Services.

While $66 per day is costly, totaling $3.9 million since Monterey County’s program began on June 7, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) covers about 75 percent, the state puts in 18 percent, and local jurisdictions pay just 6.25 percent. “It really is cost-effective,” Jimenez says.

In February, FEMA officials announced an additional 30 days of funding, set to end on March 8; Jimenez is hoping for another extension. “You wouldn’t think so, but there are seniors out there in the middle class suffering hunger,” she says. “This program is really making a difference.”

There are testimonials to prove it. In a letter on Dec. 29, 88-year-old Beryl Czuleger of Monterey wrote with gratitude after she had a series of strokes while her husband, Tom, was recovering from a hip replacement. “You can imagine how difficult it is for us to shop for groceries, as well as transferring the heavy bags from our car into the house,” she wrote. “Our quality of life and our health have improved. We hope that this wonderful program can be extended.”

When they finish dinner delivery, the Bonillas sit down and eat the same meal themselves. (They may add dinner offerings post-pandemic.)

It’s a family dinner, and a family business. Bonilla’s two daughters are now attending college remotely, and helping out at the restaurant. Bonilla drives the delivery van, and one daughter hops out to bring food to the door; she’s gotten to know some of the clients.

“The money is important, but the impact to my kids, showing them how to be good citizens and help people in need – that is like double payment,” Bonilla says. “This pandemic has been a blessing in a way. It has shown us how to be better people.”

Sara Rubin loves long public meetings, red pens and reading (on newsprint). She has been editor of the Monterey County Weekly since 2016, and has been on staff since 2010.

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