Good Neighbors: Cathy Russo

Each year, our Good Neighbor Awards honor some of the dedicated neighbors who volunteer their time to help seniors and people with disabilities get the resources and support they need to age and thrive in their own homes and neighborhoods. We are delighted to honor Cathy as our 2017 Good Neighbor Honoree for the Park Merced/University Park Food Network.

There’s not much Cathy Russo won’t do to help people. She’s involved with a number of service organizations, including Parkmerced/University Park Food Network (PUP).

“It’s nice to be doing something. It’s so wonderful to be doing this for people, to know you can help people,” Cathy said.

Delivering Groceries and Community Connections

Cathy Russo, 2017 Good Neighbor Honoree

Cathy is not only recreating the small town of her youth but is also making connections between her vast experience and her commitment to “making it good” for others.

PUP delivers grocery boxes to seniors living in the Park Merced and University Park North complexes on the southwest side of the city. But like all food delivery programs, PUP is more than simply a grocery program, explained Cathy, a Community Living Campaign Good Neighbor Honoree.

“We visit. We’re not in a rush to deliver. Sometimes, when they want to talk, we stay 20 or 30 minutes. They’re our neighbors. We’re making a community connection.”

PUP delivered its first groceries to three families in 2011, and Cathy was there from the beginning: sorting, packing, loading, driving and her favorite, delivering the groceries. Today, the program serves 28 families, delivering groceries from the San Francisco Marin Food Bank as part of the San Francisco Department of Aging & Adult Services’ Home Delivered Grocery program on the first and third Tuesday of the month.

Lifelong Commitment to Educating and Connecting Neighbors

Cathy and other volunteers help organize bags for the 2016 turkey delivery

Cathy has been part of the Park Merced Food Network since the beginning. “We visit. We’re not in a rush to deliver…They’re our neighbors. We’re making a community connection,” she says.

Cathy grew up on the family farm in a small community near Castroville. After graduating from a two-room school where she “knew everything about everyone,” Cathy went on to earn an elementary teaching certificate at San Jose State University, returning home every weekend to help on the farm. After some years teaching, she went back to school for a degree in social work.

When Cathy realized that what she really wanted to do was to help seniors, she enrolled in the gerontology department at San Francisco State University, where she received her master’s degree in 1977.

Now retired, Cathy remains active. In addition to her involvement with the Community Living Campaign and PUP, she also volunteers with the Coalition of Concerned Legal Professionals, and is a member of the Advisory Council to the San Francisco Commission on Aging. “It’s a continuation of Cathy’s lifetime of service, of trying to take care of everybody,” said Karen Holt, CLC’s Park Merced Community Connector.

Up next, Cathy is planning to connect one of the families in the PUP program with a coalition attorney and help another neighbor who is worried about being evicted. “It’s wonderful. We only have to help connect them to services. We don’t have to solve their problems,” she said

It seems that in volunteering with PUP, Cathy is not only recreating the small town of her youth but is also making connections between her vast experience and her commitment to “making it good” for others.

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