PCF Helps ARS Mobilize to Feed Seniors during COVID-19 Pandemic

For decades, Armenian Relief Society (ARS) Social Services has supported low-income seniors in Pasadena, with a unique capacity to serve clients who are recent immigrants or refugees and may not seek help elsewhere. The ARS Pasadena office is a one-stop center for maintaining independent living, including medical enrollment, nutritional support, needs assessments, case management, and coordination with public benefits, and provides multi-lingual services to clients.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and Pasadena’s “Safer at Home” order, new needs quickly emerged among ARS’s clients. Living on fixed incomes and at high risk for contracting COVID-19, vulnerable seniors were suddenly unable to shop for groceries, and many were reporting their need for food. The organization’s deep community relationships helped the ARS staff quickly assess the extent of this new food insecurity and, with the help of an emergency grant from PCF, launch a new partnership to deliver free groceries to their now home-bound clients.

In mid-March, shortly before the city issued its official “Safer at Home” order, Director of Operations Talar Aintablian had already stopped in-person appointments at the Pasadena ARS Social Services office. She was aware of the significant danger that COVID-19 posed to her senior clients and transitioned to telephone appointments in order to protect them and continue to provide vital services. New and existing clients kept calling, requesting help with public assistance benefits, Section 8 housing renewals, Medi-Cal enrollment, unemployment, stimulus checks, and more.

As the ARS case manager continued to provide assessments and services over the phone, they began to hear pleas for help with food. Seniors themselves, and concerned neighbors and family members, called to ask for help – how could they get food with no money, and no means to leave the house? In addition to referring them to local services, ARS Social Services reached out to its own neighboring organizations, who had formed the Pasadena Armenian Center Covid-19 Emergency Task Force for crisis response.

In collaboration with the Armenian Relief Society Sosse Chapter, the Armenian Cultural Foundation Lernavayr Chapter, Code3Life, St. Sarkis Church, Hamazkayin Shahan Shahnour Chapter, and Homenetmen Azadamard Chapter, ARS is now aiding in a volunteer-run food distribution effort in their community. ARS staff help coordinate requests for food, and volunteers do the shopping, bag assembly, and contact-free drop off. Food deliveries started on April 7th, and 52 households of older adults ages 65-95 have already received full bags of groceries. Pasadena Community Foundation awarded ARS a $10,000 emergency COVID-19 response grant to cover program costs, including the purchase of food for distribution to their clients.

“As we reviewed how social service organizations across Pasadena were responding to the pandemic, the PCF team recognized that ARS had anticipated the need for food among their home-bound senior clients and wanted to extend their services to meet it,” said Jennifer DeVoll, PCF President and CEO. “By leveraging their existing relationships with clients and community partners, ARS was able to organize an efficient and collaborative community-based response that PCF is proud to support.”