Seniors: Get Resources, Free Laptops, Hotspots and Food
By Dianne Anderson
Before there were laptops, and back when there was plenty of affordable food to go around, seniors would welcome a friendly face and an old-fashioned knock at the door to see if they needed any help.
Today, reaching the sick and the shut-ins with vital life-saving information can be as easy as pointing them to their device to download the app.
Pastor Kevin Johnson said the only problem is that many do not own a device. If they do, they can’t afford the internet. It’s getting harder to reach the aging in the age of digital communications.
“I think there is a barrier we’ve placed between us and the elderly because of technology. That’s one of those things that as a society, we need to reach out more, rather than set up a website, and say hey, go to our website – find us,” said Pastor Johnson of Strength Church in Long Beach.
Johnson received a grant from the COVID relief fund through the Long Beach Community Foundation after the pandemic hit, but that money went out quickly to the community. Their food bank and weekly drive-throughs served up many boxes and bags of groceries.
“We hit it hard and did it on a weekly basis for a very long time,” he said.
But he recalls when they first opened up his church outreach on the Bluff where people go for yoga and exercise, he was located right below a big homeless encampment.
The first people to come to the church were the homeless.
“They would hear us having services out in the open, they’d come out of the encampment, they’d pray, we lead them to Christ and there’s food. One thing we noticed more often than not, the people coming were elderly,” he said.
Dina Berg, co-founder of the Heart of Ida, said they want seniors to come in and take advantage of their programs, which recently started new drop-in tech hours to help seniors fill out any applications online.
Some seniors don’t have access to the technology, and others don’t use it.
“We help them with phones devices, questions how to stay in touch with family or specific, but also help with apps, to give them extra one-on-one that most seniors really need,” she said.
While they’re at it, they can access food from the essential needs pantry. The nonprofit provides wraparound services, and stays connected through phone call messages on available resources. Her program is located at the main senior center in Long Beach, which also offers many adjacent services.
“Things are so expensive for all of us,” she said. “When you think about seniors, fixed income and housing costs. It’s a concern.”
As part of the City’s Digital Inclusion Initiative, the CARES Act and the Long Beach Recovery Act, over 1,000 hotspots and 1,500 computing devices went out to low-income residents in the past two years. Recently, the city of Long Beach was also recognized as a 2022 Digital Inclusion Trailblazer by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.
Berg said their tech services came by way of a recent Digital Inclusion grant from the city, and soon the program will issue 160 Chromebooks for their low-income qualifying seniors. Based on availability, they will also receive free hotspots for a year. After that period, internet pricing remains affordable.
According to the city’s 2021 Digital Inclusion Roadmap, households of color in Long Beach without an Internet subscription run twice the rate of White households. Black households and Native American/Pacific Islanders are the most in need at 11.4% and 11.7%, respectively.
The report also finds that 8.0% of Black/African-American households in Long Beach are without computer access, twice the rate of White households at 3.6%. Older adults (65 years and older) in Long Beach are without computer access at higher rates at 15.3%.
The lack of computers is one obstacle, but at the senior center where Berg is located, a lot of elderly homeless are coming through the doors.
“They are living in their cars, their rent is just going up and up. That’s the next step, it’s horrible,” she said, adding that her mother is 78 and just moved to a new location, which took a hard toll on her. “Can you imagine living in your car?”
She remembers how she and her sister first got involved in creating the Heart of Ida, named after her grandmother. Throughout the years and during the holidays, her grandmother would take them around to various senior homes to volunteer and bring gifts.
Today, the program serves about 1,200 annually, with direct and indirect services, providing clients with basic household items, and food. They also help them apply for help with utility bills, and seniors always appreciate what they get.
“I’ve seen people that say, Oh, you have toilet paper?” she said. “It’s so hard to afford toilet paper and everyone needs that.”
They had also received a grant from the city of Long Beach to address emergency rental assistance, and saw many older clients.
“Assistance helping people one on one can be complex for people especially as we age,” she said. “No seniors should be on the street.”
For more information, call Heart of Ida at 562-570-3548, or see http://www.heartofida.org/about-heart-of-ida/
For more information on how to get a laptop and free hotspot, see