OAKLAND (KPIX 5) – This week’s Jefferson Award winner helps distribute more than a million pounds of food each year to make sure East Bay senior citizens do not go hungry.

Krista Lucchesi and hundreds of volunteers sort and pack groceries so that low income senior citizens don’t go hungry in Alameda County.

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“Those are the stories that break my heart,” Lucchesi said.

The stories come from older adults struggling to survive the high cost of Bay Area living.

Lucchesi explained, “They skip meals, they skip being able to do laundry because they have to buy lunch. They skip presents for their grandchildren.”

Often, the older adults tell her that medical costs force tough choices.

Lucchesi described a common conversation with a senior citizen she serves.

“This medicine says that I have to take it with food, but I can’t afford the food, and I can’t afford the medicine, so maybe I skip one or the other,” she said.

For the last 15 years, Lucchesi has made sure Alameda County seniors get nutritious food for free, through the Mercy Brown Bag food distribution Program.

Jefferson Award Winner Krista Lucchesi. (CBS)

Jefferson Award Winner Krista Lucchesi. (CBS)

As program director, she’s seen the need jump nearly 70% during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program now serves 8,000 older adults a month.

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It operates under Elder Care Alliance and its Mercy Retirement & Care Center in Oakland.

The center’s residents started the program 40 years ago to help neighboring seniors stay independent in their own homes.

Mercy Brown Bag partners with 90 different service providers and United Way has helped fund Door Dash drivers to deliver the groceries during the pandemic.

Clark Sheaffer, who is 91-years-old has welcomed the food bags for 15 years.

“I can go for days without food but I don’t want to,” he said. “But I’m grateful for those brown bag things.”

Volunteers like 73-year-old Sue Tai experience the joy of seniors helping seniors under Krista’s compassionate leadership.

“They’re grateful to get the food,” Tai said. “Everybody loves Krista. She’s so sweet, so warm.”

Lucchesi said it’s rewarding to help people who need it.

“There are times that you cry after you’ve answered the phone and you’re happy that you’re able to get them the groceries that they need,” she said.

For helping fight hunger among senior citizens, one grocery bag at a time, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Krista Lucchesi.

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Note: The brown bag program receives funds through grants, foundations and donations. It welcomes more donations so it can keep up with the growth in seniors who need food during the pandemic.