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Coronavirus brings new food worries to Long Beach's low-income elderly

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At 11:30 a.m. last Friday, a white Long Island Cares truck pulled up outside the main offices of the Long Beach Housing Authority, and Andrew Gottlieb began to hand out packages of food to the approximately 50 people who had been waiting on line for fresh chicken, rice, soup and other staples.

They were primarily elderly. Some used walkers or wheelchairs. Others suffered from poor eyesight or diabetes. All needed food in the age of the coronavirus, which has hit Long Beach, closing many stores, emptying streets and shuttering schools.

Many of the people who live in Long Beach's four public-housing buildings are not able to get to supermarkets during normal times. The virus has made life even harder. Supermarkets have shortened their hours, and shelves are often bare of basic necessities, like toilet paper.

Long Island Cares has delivered to the Long Beach housing projects in the recent past, when the state of New York changed its rules and said providers must serve wider populations. One of the prime providers, Catholic Charities, was unable to meet the new requirements, and was forced to quit the program.

On Friday, Long Island Cares came as a result of COVID-19 and its impact on these low-income seniors.

Tess Reyes was among those waiting for a food package.

"It's hard to get food," she said, her voice a mere whisper against a chill wind off Reynolds Channel. "A lot of us can't leave our apartments. We need food and water."

The scene was much the same at the MLK Jr. Center a few blocks away. "The need for food has tripled," said James Hodge, of the center. "Some people had groceries for what they thought was a week. But many find they are now in need." Hodge said the center has been trying to provide as many as 170 people with some produce five days a week. He said the center has been receiving donations, but more is needed.

Frances Burney, a retired Long Beach school bus driver, waited patiently outside the housing office. She said she had come to get food for herself and her sister, who is unable to leave her apartment.

"I'm holding out," she said. "It's all in God's hands."

Linda Carrano said she had "just enough" food for the next few days. She said it is difficult for her to go to the local supermarket without any kind of transportation.

Barbara Bussey, also a retired Long Beach school bus driver, has become an unofficial organizer at her building nearest to City Hall. On this Friday, she was out, keeping people a distance from one another, and seeing to it everyone got a bag of food.

"Most people here are very needy," Bussey said. "A lot of them can't go shopping. A lot of them don't have enough food to last for the rest of next week." She said she is trying to persuade city officials to secure food packages at least once a week, instead of every few weeks, as it is now.

"How long does a bag last people, a few days, at most," she said.