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Age-Friendly Berkeley, California, Responds to COVID-19

How the city is serving and protecting its older residents

The city of Berkeley, California, is home to about 120,000 residents, roughly 14 percent of whom are 65 or older. A member of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities since 2016, the city's initiative is called Age-Friendly Berkeley

Taking Care

Seniors: Take Extra Precautions


Among the city's Twitter posts about COVID-19 is this graphic with advice for older adults.

Community Representatives: 

Lustig and Bustamante explain how the community is helping its older residents during the coronavirus pandemic.

(Information provided to AARP on May 18, 2020)

The Challenge

“Our biggest challenges have been addressing isolation due to stay-at-home and social distancing requirements, connecting residents with necessary services, and ensuring that our older residents have access to groceries and prepared meals.” 

The Response

“We’ve collaborated and coordinated with partner organizations to reach our residents in their homes. We’re conducting ‘wellness checks’ by phone with our senior center patrons and those using Meals on Wheels. People appreciate the calls. It’s helping them feel their connection to the senior center and our community is maintained and strengthened. 

The Focus Areas

“Our partners — including The Gateway Program of the Berkeley Age Friendly Continuum, Ashby Village, the Center for Independent Living and J-Sei (a multi-generational and multi-cultural community care and cultural organization) — are also reaching out to clients and residents. The calls are often light, social in nature, but include an assessment of well-being and needs, including whether the person has help from family and friends, access to groceries and prepared food.

“J- Sei has a friendly visitor program that transitioned into a friendly caller program. J-Sei is calling all seniors that have received services. Through those calls, J-Sei responds to requests for delivered groceries or other supplies, such as art supplies, and supports anxious residents. The Center for Independent Living began with calls to its current clients and then reached out to its recent clients to check on their well-being and social connectivity.

“The city has coordinated the response to food insecurity by delivering both prepared meals and groceries. Since our senior centers are closed, the staff has shifted to delivering lunches to our senior center patrons twice a week with food included for other days. During the deliveries the staff members check that the recipients are well and determine if they need additional resources.

Response Partners

“J-Sei is providing home-delivered meals to several dozen seniors and pantry groceries to a dozen other residents. They’ve transitioned their congregate dining services to pick-up or home-delivery meals. Meals on Wheels continues to deliver prepared meals to the home of seniors and has worked to increase capacity for more clients. Calls from Ashby Village, which is the local Village to Village Network program, and the Berkeley Continuum's Gateway Program help direct us to people who need food services.”

The Results, Thus Far

“While many of these activities aren’t highlighted in our age-friendly action plan, the COVID-19 pandemic has encouraged us to address previous priority areas in creative ways.

“Our calls to residents have been incredibly well-received. Residents contacted through the wellness checks and phone call programs have expressed appreciation for the calls and tell us the calls help them feel connected to the community. In fact, people really like that they can still call our main line and talk to a staff person. Sometimes the conversation itself is what they need most.

“One Berkeley Continuum Gateway participant was genuinely surprised to get a call from the staff and expressed gratitude for being remembered during this terrible time. 

“And although J-Sei lost about 85 percent of their nutrition volunteers, cooks and drivers due to the stay-in-place requirements, its new, young chef recruited several of his friends and colleagues as volunteers. This brought new hope to the program and was very heartwarming."

Research by Shosanna Preuss  | Article published May 2020

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