MARTINEZ -- Loaves & Fishes' announced relocation to Ferry and Green streets came as an unpleasant surprise to some at the Senior Center across the street.
The nonprofit organization distributes 15 tons of food and serves an average of 150 meals a day in space rented from the First Baptist Church on Alhambra Avenue.
Executive Director David Gerson's upbeat announcement at a recent City Council meeting described how Police Chief Gary Peterson helped him find the new location and how the commercial kitchen can potentially be rented to caterers or other organizations when not in use by Loaves & Fishes.
Martinez is one of five Contra Costa County Loaves & Fishes locations providing meals in partnership with the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. Gerson said food prices are going up and 82 percent of the meals served in Martinez go to local residents, with 13 percent of those served to people age 65 and older.
Senior Center board member Tom Borman countered Gerson's remarks first by praising Loaves & Fishes as an organization, then saying they had chosen the wrong location. Borman said he heard of complaints from neighbors at the present site and suspected that transients circulating around the senior center would be intimidating to frail seniors.
Lawrence Risner, another board member, complained that Senior Center leadership had not been informed of the move until after the decision was made, and suggested the move could compound safety and vandalism issues in the Senior Center parking lot.
Member Claudine Thomas was concerned that elderly members might miss out on activities and socialization at the center, staying home to avoid possible situations in the vicinity.
Anna Gwyn Simpson, Martinez interim city manager, later noted, "Loaves & Fishes has assured the city that it intends to be good neighbors in the community."
Simpson said city officials could do nothing about the private property sale to Loaves & Fishes because the property already had a commercial kitchen, it is zoned for the intended use and there was no requirement for a Planning Commission review (public notice).
Loaves & Fishes leadership has since met with the Senior Center staff a few times to discuss their operation, and the executive director intends to have his main office, as well as security on site, according to Simpson.
"The city is working with Loaves & Fishes to develop a voluntary memorandum of understanding that will outline their intended use of the facility and conditions of the city to ensure that a nuisance abatement issue does not arise," Simpson said.
A plan for how to address Senior Center member concerns may be on the May 21 City Council agenda, according to Simpson.
Contact Dana Guzzetti at email@example.com or call 925-202-9292.