JJ's Burgers owner Jesus Zavela. The burger joint is one of three San Juan Bautista restaurants participating in the Great Plates Delivered program. Photo by Robert Eliason.
JJ's Burgers owner Jesus Zavela. The burger joint is one of three San Juan Bautista restaurants participating in the Great Plates Delivered program. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Like all small restaurants, Veronica Pirl’s Mission Cafe has been struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said the Small Business Administration turned down her applications for the Paycheck Protection Program and an Economic Injury Disaster Loan.

“The SBA didn’t even look at places with less than a dozen employees,” Pirl said. “Our staff is anxious to get back to work at the cafe.”

Starting May 20, however, help will arrive for Mission Cafe and a handful of other local restaurants with Great Plates Delivered, a program that allows qualifying seniors to get three hot meals delivered daily free of charge until the program ends on June 10. 

“We have over 100 seniors already signed up,” program coordinator Cielo Lopez said.

Participating restaurants include Fourth Street Eatery, Be True Cafe, and Relax! Grillin & Chillin in Hollister; Eva Mae’s Cafe, Flapjacks Breakfast and Grill, and the Inn at Tres Pinos in Tres Pinos; JJ’s Burgers, Matxain Etxea, and Mission Cafe in San Juan Bautista.

Lopez said Grillin & Chillin, Flapjacks and Mission Cafe will begin serving food for the program on May 20, with the other restaurants following suit on May 25. More restaurants may be added as the program moves forward.

Funding for the program comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (75%), the state (18.75%), and San Benito County (6.25%). The program’s budget allows for up to $61 per day per senior and an additional $5 for delivery. In contrast, Meals on Wheels allows about $10 per day. The program may be extended beyond the end date based on need.

The program is open to people 60-64 years old who are at risk or who have had exposure to COVID-19, and to anyone over 65 who is not already receiving meal assistance such as CalFresh, Meals on Wheels, or WIC. Applicants must also not have a current support system and cannot have a single income exceeding $74,940 or a two-person income exceeding $101,460.

Participating restaurants will decide on what to serve, and seniors will be matched to restaurants depending on what they would prefer to receive. Qualifying seniors will be able to choose which meals they would like delivered—breakfast, lunch, dinner, or all three—and menus can be customized for low-sodium or other restricted diets.

Restaurants are required to prepare four menu choices for seniors to select from.  

“I’m working on it now,” said Jesus Zavela, owner of JJ’s Burgers. “I will have a classic burger and a chicken plate with salad. We have veggie burgers too.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom launched the Great Plates Delivered program statewide on April 24. San Benito County agencies were invited to participate in a Zoom meeting outlining the program on May 7 and initially were going to pass because of a lack of staff.

Victoria Fortino, executive director of United Way of San Benito County, stepped in to take on the program and brought in Seniors Council of Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties Director Clay Kempf to help with logistics.

Fortino said it was too good an opportunity to let slip by. 

“It is an amazing example of county government and nonprofits working together to bring an important program for San Benito County to fruition,” Fortino said. “It is a true collaboration, with each agency providing an important role. The final piece of the puzzle was receiving funding from the COVID-19 Emergency Fund. We are all very excited for this program to roll out!”

Working with the Community Foundation for San Benito County, United Way got the local Great Plates Delivered program up and ready to take applications within a week.

Restaurants participating in the program faced some logistic problems with the quick turnaround time, but Pirl is excited to participate.

“We are starting slowly on Wednesday,” said Pirl, who is now able to reopen Mission Cafe with the assistance of the program. “We promised 50 meals a day, but will be able to do only 20 to start. Great Plates is a good idea that helps small mom and pop operators get restarted. We miss our customers and are very appreciative of everyone’s efforts to get us back on our feet.”

Eligible seniors who are interested in applying may call Cielo Lopez at (831) 205-1371 or email greatplatessanbenito@gmail.com for more information.


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