2008-04-10 / View From the Middle

View From The Middle

City Council Must Learn To Respect Senior Citizens
By Charles Rogers

By Charles Rogers

It was only a couple of weeks ago when discussions at City Hall regarding the budget centered on what to do about reforms at senior centers. In their rush to revamp the allotment of funding for this service to the elderly, let's hope they don't get over-zealous and start closing more centers. You just KNOW they'll have a tendency to go overboard once they start using the scissors, like kindergartners at play. We all know they shouldn't be given anything sharp to play with anyway.

For starters, officials have been mulling over cancelling the precious hot-meals-on-wheels program in favor of just tossing the seniors a frozen dinner. I use the word precious because, to some, the delivery and care taken to see that the elderly receive these hot dinners means so much more than just giving them physical subsistence.

A few years ago I took part in some volunteer programs with a neighborhood development outfit. One of the programs was Meals on Wheels, essentially the same program that is under discussion these days in the City Council.

If I were to testify now before the council regarding the program, plus others that are in danger of being cancelled, my first words would be to tell them to spend one day in the program, not as a recipient of its services, but for just a few hours, to walk in the shoes of the people ministering to those who have no one else in their lives except their fellow senior citizens; learn how precious and important the delivery of the meals means; learn what it is to have a center where there are people to talk with - especially, in most cases, now that their spouse is gone and their life is empty - except for this.

"You have to be there," I would say, "to fully understand what it means when they have become 'someone' for just that short time - a 'person' who is thought about by someone else."

On more than a few occasions, I delivered meals myself, and, on more than a few occasions, I was greeted at the door by an elderly lady in her apartment in one of the projects. This was obviously the highlight of her day. As she welcomed me inside, the frail lady asked me to please take the meal to her kitchen, all the while talking about how nice a day it was and "did you see on the news on TV….?," and "you know, my children and grandchildren don't live in the city anymore and, well, it's nice to talk to somebody these days. Oh, but you must get that a lot, don't you?..." She would cite any subject that would keep me in the apartment for even minutes more; anything that would mean she would have company for a longer time - until the next day.

Fridays were the worst because the meals for the full weekend were delivered then. That would mean the lonely recipients may not see anyone for at least two more days, and they would, therefore, cling to that valued time even longer. When Monday came around, they'd greet the person delivering the meal like a long, lost son.

Recipients . That's what they were called. Either that or clients . I hesitated to even make a delivery when I heard that. Frankly, I wouldn't budge unless I was given the name of the person whom I was delivering to. At this point in life, especially when they spoke about their deceased husband or wife, they deserved to be accorded the dignity and respect of everyone, especially this lowly delivery man.

The idea of replacing the hot meals with frozen dinners stands to remind us of how cold the hearts of some bureaucrats are. Surely, one would think some of the City Council's newly-found $17 million "slush fund" money that had been stashed away in phantom development corporations and fantasy facilities could be used to help fund not only the Meals on Wheels programs but the senior centers.

Once again, you have to be there to see the elderly come, for example, to the Abe Stark Senior Center on Farragut Road at 10 o'clock on a weekday morning. Some will practically elbow their way in, just to get a comfortable seat while they have their coffee and talk with a new friend. Some will pick up a deck of cards and start a card game. Some will just sit and wistfully toy with their cup of coffee, comfortable that there are people nearby. They'll be recognized by the director or another administrator and that will be enough; just being noticed and spoken to.

According to a recent report by City Comptroller William Thompson, the senior citizen population is expected to grow 44 percent by the year 2030.

It's GROWING! I'm sure that has to mean something to those who want to cut down on the funding.

I'm sure they must realize this is one way the city can show the senior citizens they are not forgotten and tshould be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.

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