This story originally appeared in the print edition of the Daily Post on April 12. If you want to stay up-to-date on local news, pick up the Post in the mornings at 1,000 Mid-Peninsula locations. Our competitors do. That’s how they get their story ideas.
BY BRADEN CARTWRIGHT
Daily Post Staff Writer
A nonprofit that has served lunches to seniors in Palo Alto for 50 years will be forced to leave the downtown area if they can’t find a dining room in the next two months.
The impact to 140 seniors who rely on La Comida would be devastating, Board President Bill Blodgett said.
“For many of the seniors who come to us, it’s their primary meal of the day because it’s well-balanced and actually tastes pretty darn good,” Blodgett said in an interview yesterday. La Comida must find a dining room by July 1 because Santa Clara County, which gives La Comida about 80% of its funding, is requiring senior nutrition providers to serve meals in a congregant setting, Blodgett said.
Seniors preferred takeout meals during the pandemic, but the county is reverting back to the old rules to give them more opportunity to socialize, Blodgett said.
La Comida has been searching for a permanent home in northern Palo Alto since 2017, after the Avenidas Senior Center at 450 Bryant St. was remodeled.
Avenidas didn’t allow La Comida to return, ending a 40-year relationship between the two nonprofits.
From 2018 to 2020, La Comida temporarily hosted meals at the Masonic Center at 457 Florence St.
During the pandemic, meals were passed out from the courtyard of the First United Methodist Church at 625 Hamilton Ave.
La Comida board member John St. Clair said he felt for seniors who stood in line during recent storms.
“There are some places for cover, but most of them will walk or bike over,” said St. Clair. “They have to go through the elements to get there, then they have to stand in the elements to get their meals.”
Things are going well for La Comida on the other side of town at the Stevenson House, a low-income senior community at 455 E. Charleston Road.
The Stevenson House dining room reopened in March, and there is dancing, live music and enough space to serve hundreds of people, who are seated for lunch at staggered times.
La Comida recently signed a five-year agreement with Stevenson House to use the dining room and kitchen, where a chef and three cooks prepare more than 300 lunches every weekday.
The Stevenson House is nearly four miles away from downtown Palo Alto, and many seniors don’t drive or have a car.
A downtown location allows residents of senior homes such as Lytton Gardens to walk over, Blodgett said.
The board has explored three permanent locations for a dining room in the downtown area, but they each have drawbacks, Blodgett said.
One potential location is an auditorium on the second floor of the Methodist Church, but there’s no elevator and some of the seniors use walkers and wheelchairs.
La Comida has been trying to find a contractor to build an elevator for two months without luck, and it could take a year or two to complete, Blodgett said.
“It’s just not going to happen in the near term,” he said. Another potential location is on the ground floor of the Barker Hotel, which is now affordable apartments at 439 Emerson St.
Alta Housing owns an old restaurant space and is willing to rent it to La Comida, but there is a lease that doesn’t allow La Comida to move in until 2024 at the earliest, Blodgett said.
La Comida’s preferred location is back at Avenidas, because seniors would have a one-stop shop for social services and their lunches.
“We just think there’s great synergy,” Blodgett said.
But the most recent offer from Avenidas is to allow La Comida to serve only 21 meals a day, Blodgett said.
La Comida is looking for a space that would fit at least 50 seniors at once, with multiple seatings per day.
A kitchen would be ideal but isn’t necessary, Blodgett said.
Both Blodgett and St. Clair said they don’t know why Avenidas won’t accommodate La Comida.
Avenidas CEO Amy Yotopoulos is on a vacation this week, so she wasn’t available for an interview.
Avenidas Vice President of Enrichment Services John Sink told the Post that Yotopoulos is the person dealing with La Comida on a weekly basis, and she speaks for Avenidas.
Avenidas has a far broader scope than La Comida. It had $10 million in revenue and 64 employees in 2020, compared to La Comida, which had $741,583 in revenue and six employees, according to the most recent tax filings.
Avenidas has a 50-year lease and a contract with the city to provide senior services.
Mayor Lydia Kou, who is married to St. Clair and is a supporter of La Comida, asked City Attorney Molly Stump on Monday to review the contract and determine if the city can require Avenidas to make space for La Comida.
“That would be the first step before we look at other places,” she said.
“There’s going to be some negotiation,” Councilman Pat Burt added.
How does it work in La Comida? Anyone may come here and get lunch for free?
They pay a small fee, sliding scale for those who can’t afford it.
That photo makes these folks look like they’re down on their luck. Truth is that they’re looking for an opportunity to socialize with people their age.