Community Resilience

Food Banks Help Seniors Stay Healthy and Happy

Over a gentle cha-cha, Julio Lozano leads a circle of seated seniors in some light calisthenics. They raise one leg and then the other. They raise one arm high and then the other.

“Now take a deep breath,” says Lozano, a physical therapist who is part of the social services team at BAMX Puebla Cáritas, a food bank in the Bancos de Alimentos de México network. “And out through the mouth,” he exhales.

Shoulders relax. Some eyes stay closed. Everyone enjoys a few moments of peace.

“Life can be stressful, and Julio helps us relax,” says Marta Dimas Pérez, 58. “Julio motivates us to enjoy every day we have.”

Through a window behind them, the BAMX Puebla Cáritas warehouse, which feeds an average of 150,000 people per week, quietly hums along. And then Lozano calls the group to their feet and the music speeds up.

“It’s time to move!” he says and whoops ring out from the group. They begin a high-knee march. “Now it’s free dance time!”

About a dozen seniors sway and spin and wave their arms. The smile on the face of Bibiana Velázquez, 70, widens with every step.  She grabs the hand of her son, 53-year-old Juan Eduardo, and spins under it. He kicks his feet high and shouts with excitement. Their companions cheer them on.

The music winds down but the group still buzzes.

“How are we feeling?” Lozano shouts. “More energy?”

“Sí,” they respond.


“Sí!” they shout.

Velázquez and her son, Juan Eduardo, who has an intellectual disability, have been coming to these biweekly seniors’ gatherings at the food bank since they started in early 2023. The program always involves physical stimulation like walking or dancing and brings in staff and volunteers for educational and recreational activities on topics like nutrition, cooking, music, and culture.

In Mexico, 43 percent of adults above 53 years of age have hypertension and 26 percent have diabetes. An estimated 1.7 million Mexicans over 60 years old live alone, with social isolation and marginalization particularly acute for older women.

“Caring for the senior population has always been a priority for us,” says Mercedes Guzmán Nájera, the director of social services at BAMX Puebla Cáritas. “It’s a population that faces multiple vulnerabilities like abandonment, disability, and chronic or terminal illnesses and we’re trying to address those.”

When they were devising this program, Guzmán noticed many of their older clients were caring for adult children with disabilities and made special emphasis to bring those families into the weekly gatherings.

“Caring for a child with a disability at my age can be very taxing, especially since my husband died,” says Velázquez. “This group has created a very special community. We look forward to it all week long and we even meet up together away from the food bank.”

Food banks across the planet in The Global FoodBanking Network target programs for seniors since food delivery and social interaction for seniors around meals has shown to have positive health and emotional impacts. Feeding Hong Kong supports the Hong Kong Association of Senior Citizens Hot Soup Programme, which provides meals and direct outreach to seniors. In Chile, Red de Alimentos debuted its Community Pantry program with a center designed primarily for seniors, where they can do a free weekly grocery shop and get specialized support from staff. 

The biweekly program at BAMX Puebla Cáritas currently serves 25 seniors and hopes to expand to more of the 200 seniors who already receive subsidized food baskets.

After their morning dance, the seniors settle down at tables in the cafeteria where BAMX Puebla Cáritas staff, volunteers, and other social services groups eat. The morning’s meal, as always, is prepared entirely with food that has been rescued by BAMX’s Puebla Cáritas’ recovery programs at farms and supermarkets. Volunteer cooks have devised up a nutritious meal of shredded chicken in chili sauce, mashed potatoes, chayote squash soup, papaya, and mandarin-lime tea.

“They really spoil us with the food,” says Velázquez. “We eat nutritious things here we would never have otherwise.”

It’s early February and the group around the table is still raving about the turkeys they each got at Christmas. “We’d never been able to afford one,” says Velázquez. “It was delicious, and that one turkey fed our family for four days.”

At the end of the meal, the seniors head downstairs to pick up their weekly, 20-kilogram food basket for the subsidized price of 14 pesos ($0.80). On average, the basket is made up of 60 percent fresh produce, with the remainder being packaged and canned goods. Non-subsidized clients pay 80 pesos ($4.60).

“Without the subsidized food basket, food would be very scarce at home,” says Dimas. “We used to have to skip meals. My daughter doesn’t earn very much, and I have grandchildren to feed and they eat a lot!”

Even on the outskirts of Puebla in an industrial area, the BAMX Puebla Cáritas headquarters has become a center for community and connection.

“We have become like brothers and sisters with the people we have met here,” says Velázquez. “I don’t have more words to describe what it means.”

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