Great Plates program facing criticism as small businesses struggle to stay afloat

A restaurant owner in Walnut Creek said she’s disappointed by in the Great Plates program in Contra Costa County because it’s only helping a small number of restaurants when so many are struggling during the pandemic.

Great Plates is a program launched by Governor Gavin Newsom in April. It pays restaurants to make and deliver breakfast, lunch, and dinner to senior citizens. The goal of the program is to help seniors stay home and avoid exposure to the coronavirus, while helping struggling businesses to stay afloat in the pandemic. Great Plates is partially funded by FEMA and run through local counties or cities that choose to participate in the program.

Debbie Shahvar, owner of Buttercup Diner, said she applied for the program in April and again in May, but never received a response. She recently followed up with the county’s program and was surprised by what she learned.

“In Contra Costa County they picked four restaurants and they've used the same four restaurants for the entire eight months,” she said.

Shahvar said she was also told that the county was not required to rotate new restaurants into the program.

“They have not given an opportunity to anyone else to apply for the program when everyone is clearly suffering and the intent of the program was to not only to help seniors, but also help individual restaurants overcome this huge economic crisis that we're in,” she said.

The help is needed now more than ever with restaurants restricted from providing indoor and outdoor dining due to recent stay-at-home orders.

“I feel slighted,” she added. “I feel like there are a lot of restaurants that could have benefited from this program that have since gone out of business.”

Tish Gallegos, a spokesperson for the Contra Costa County Employment & Human Services Department, told KTVU the county is grateful for the program. They appreciate the high level of interest that restaurants have had for Great Plates. She said the county is closely monitoring the program to make sure the restaurants meet the actual demand.

Contra Costa County currently serves 266 seniors in the program, according to Tracy Murray, Director of Adult and Aging Services. Murray said the program specifically excluded chain restaurants in an effort to help local businesses and said those restaurants must be able to prepare and deliver meals three days a week. Because the program deals with vulnerable older adults, Murray said it’s in their best interest not to have the restaurants switched out.

Counties and cities are notified on a monthly basis about whether the program will be extended. As of now, Great Plates has been funded through Jan. 7.

According to California’s Office of Emergency Services, Great Plates has served 19.5 million meals to Californians in need since the program’s inception. There are currently 803 food providers across the state contracted under the program serving 54,157 people daily.