Community Bridges Selects Successor for Meals on Wheels for Santa Cruz County

SANTA CRUZ COUNTY, CA — Community Bridges is excited to announce that it has hired Darren Daley to take over as program director for Meals on Wheels for Santa Cruz County when Lisa Berkowitz caps off her stellar four-decade career with Meals on Wheels in August as she heads into retirement.  

Darren has over a decade of community development experience in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors. He also has strong ties to the Central Coast. He earned his Master of Public Administration in International Management from Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey in 2011. 

More recently, he was based in Laos working as the Managing Director for Global Association for People and the Environment, a nonprofit that focuses on food security, environmental sustainability, and preserving cultural traditions in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. He worked there from 2012 to 2020, first starting as a program manager before taking over as director in 2015.  

In addition to Darren’s tenure in Laos, he has also worked as an educator, consultant, and project coordinator in several other countries overseas, such as South Korea, as well as here on the Central Coast. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish.  

“We are so incredibly excited to be able to welcome Darren into our organization. His experience and strong commitment to support food insecurity and his deep commitment toward supporting older adults is what is needed after having such a strong directorship and leadership from Lisa Berkowitz who has been leading the program for decades,” Community Bridges CEO Ray Cancino said.  

Lisa has worked at Meals on Wheels for Santa Cruz County for the past 44 years. She was first hired as the Food Service Director of Golden Age Nutrition Program, the predecessor to Meals on Wheels for Santa Cruz County, in July 1979, three years after the program was founded.  

Under her leadership, Meals on Wheels for Santa Cruz County has surpassed 10 million meals served since its founding. Annually, the program provides more than 235,000 meals thanks to a small-but-mighty staff of 16 employees and more than 50 volunteers. Lisa’s vigilance has ensured the program “never misses a meal” throughout floods of 1982, earthquake of 1989, recession in 2009, pandemic and wildfires of 2020, cost inflation of 2022, and atmospheric river storms and floods of 2023. 

“Lisa has built a strong and dedicated program that has been able to meet our community’s needs regards of the resources available, the circumstances surrounding us and or the increase of the need. She has figured out a way to truly get to a vision of trying to ensure no senior ever goes hungry and has worked her whole career in making that a reality. We are so fortunate to have had her here and in that role,” Cancino said. 

Meals on Wheels for Santa Cruz County faces many challenges in the short- and long-term. Over 1,500 older adults in our community rely on Meals on Wheels for Santa Cruz County for food security, and a majority are isolated and disabled elders living below the poverty line.  

The number of participants who need meals delivered to their homes doubled during the COVID-19 Pandemic, and that increase has caused Meals on Wheels for Santa Cruz County’s operating costs to balloon.  At the same time, the population of older adults in Santa Cruz County is continuing to grow. According to Census data, the 65-84 population has grown faster in Santa Cruz County than anywhere else in California since 2010. However, local, state, and federal funding for the program has either remained stagnant at levels formulated in the 1980s or steadily dissipated.  

“I encourage everyone to contact their elected officials, especially your county supervisors and city councilmembers and ask them to support older adult services in our community,” Lisa said. “We’re seeing a rapid increase in the older adult population and there’s an urgent need for increased investment to address the critical need for additional services.” 

Meals on Wheels for Santa Cruz County is also in the process of finding a new home, as plans to redevelop the Live Oak Senior Center site into workforce housing are being developed by the Live Oak School District, which owns the property. Meals on Wheels for Santa Cruz County has called the Live Oak Senior Center home since 1977. 

“After more than a decade working in community development overseas, I’m thrilled to return to the Central Coast to support my community, especially the older adults of Santa Cruz County,” Darren said. “With significant increases in the cost of living it’s incredibly important that we as a community work together to ensure food security for the rapidly growing older adult population.” 

About Community Bridges 

Community Bridges envisions a thriving community where every person has the opportunity to unleash their full potential. Together, our family of programs delivers essential services, provides equitable access to resources, and advocates for health and dignity across every stage of life. To learn more, please visit communitybridges.org 

About Meals on Wheels for Santa Cruz County  

Since 1976, Meals on Wheels for Santa Cruz County, a program of Community Bridges, has served more than 10 million meals to 75,000 local seniors in need. Meals on Wheels for Santa Cruz County serves 1,500 seniors in need each year with nutritious meals and caring human contact. The tireless work of this program—supported by a dedicated army of volunteers—allows thousands of Santa Cruz County residents to remain healthy, safe, and independent in their own homes. 

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