CenCal Health Donates $200,000 to Meals That Connect in SLO County

Local health plan contributed over $2M to area senior nutrition programs since 2016

This month, the non-profit Meals That Connect in San Luis Obispo received a second check for $100,000 from CenCal Health. Earlier in 2021, the local Medi-Cal health plan donated $100,000 to provide SLO County seniors a daily nutritious meal, most of which were delivered directly to consumers’ homes due to COVID-19 restrictions. CenCal Health’s recent $100,000 donation matched the funds raised in 2021 by Meals That Connect through its community supporters.

“Mission accomplished,” said Elias Nimeh, executive director of Meals That Connect. “We are grateful for the fundraising challenge, and want to thank both the community and CenCal Health for their ongoing contributions to our program that helps at-risk seniors.” CenCal Health has contributed $1.1 million in the last six years to support Meals That Connect’s mission to enhance health, restore dignity, support independence, and reduce isolation for every SLO County senior in need by providing meaningful connections and free, hot, noon-time meals.

In 2020/21, Meals That Connect suddenly faced the unexpected challenge of addressing the food insecurities and isolation experienced by the senior community during the pandemic. The organization increased its weekly meal service from 3,000 meals to 5,000 meals a day, and added routes – from 38 to 52 – to support the demand, including the delivery of hot meals to seniors located in the most rural areas of San Luis Obispo County.

The largest senior nutrition program in Santa Barbara County also received over $1 million in funding from CenCal Health – $200,000 a year between 2016 and 2020, and $100,000 in 2021. In July of this year, CommUnify, the non-profit agency that ran the Senior Healthy Meal initiative, ended the program that had been in place since 1974. (CommUnify was previously known as Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County or CAC.)

Despite the support from CenCal Health, this community’s senior meal program had been running at a deficit for over a decade. Factors contributing to the program’s financial hardships include increases in minimum wage, food and transportation costs, as well as the rise in need by the baby boom generation, often referred to as a “silver tsunami.” Yet funding from all branches of government – city, state and federal – has been cut or remained stagnant. This issue is not limited to Santa Barbara County or even California. In 2019, AARP’s Public Policy Institute concluded that the Older Americans Act (OAA), which provides funding for senior meal programs, “has failed to keep up with inflation and increased demand from a rapidly aging population.”

“The need for senior meals skyrocketed during the pandemic, as this vulnerable population sheltered at home,” said CenCal Health CEO Bob Freeman. “Our counties’ two senior meal programs, Meals That Connect and CommUnify, saw increases in demand by as much as 40%. As both organizations scrambled to find safe ways to meet the need, CenCal Health continued to support their efforts, recognizing that food is medicine for seniors.”

Since 2016, the combined total financial support from CenCal Health for senior nutrition programs in the two counties it serves is $2.2 million.

About CenCal Health

CenCal Health is a community-accountable health plan that partners with over 1,500 local physicians, hospitals and other providers in delivering patient care to more than 200,000 members – about one in four residents of Santa Barbara County and one in five residents of San Luis Obispo County. A public agency, the health plan contributes approximately $50 million a month into the local economy, primarily through payments to healthcare providers who serve its membership. Established in 1983, it is the oldest managed care Medicaid plan of its kind in the nation. View its annual Community Report at cencal2020.org

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Media Contact: Sheri Mobley (805) 845-5627, 213 509-9816 sheri@seamlesspr.com

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