The produce Jessie Mae Brown, 85, leaves on the porch of her East Oakland home helps to feed most of her block.

Some people have potted plants on their front porches. Others have rocking chairs or benches. Walk onto the porch of Jessie Mae Brown’s East Oakland home on any given day and you’re likely to be stepping around 100-pound bags of onions and potatoes or bins of apples and carrots—all fresh for the taking.

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St. Mary’s Center in West Oakland helps some of the 71,000 seniors in Alameda County who do not have enough money to meet their basic needs; that is half of the people in Alameda County who are 65 and over. But the center is just one node in the complex and incomplete web of aid for seniors who do not have enough money to live on. “Forget the issue of any kind of dementia, long-term chronic mental health issues, substance abuse issues—just be homeless and experience the trauma of that and then figure this out,” said Carol Johnson, the director of St. Mary’s.

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