Paulette De Filippe is in charge of the Silver Threads. She is wearing a fur stole for sale. Fur coats were $10. Ms. De Filippe also volunteers at the Jones Manor Thrift Shop in Bayville. "It's fun. It's nice to help people," she said.
The economic downturn is having a ripple effect. Gail Speranza, Doubleday Babcock Senior Center executive director has been thinking of ways to help the center maintain its services in spite of the cuts in funding.
Friday, Jan. 30, at the celebration of Annette Greico's 106th birthday, Legislator Judy Jacobs told Ms. Speranza that Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi was holding an emergency legislative meeting on Monday, Feb. 2 about the budget problems and suggested she attend. Ms. Speranza is a spokesperson for senior services. County Executive Suozzi is proposing ways to cut the county's expenses with his budget proposals which call for a pay cut of 7 percent for county workers instead of laying off about 10 percent of the workers to balance the budget. The unions are not agreeing at this time. Added to that, Mr. Suozzi is suggesting that he will close the county for 26 days, unpaid. The Legislature is met on Feb. 9.
Ms. Speranza said, "As for the seniors, he has cut funding $1.9 million for the 15 senior centers it helps fund. We are one of them. About 24 percent of our funding comes from the county. It pays for the nutrition and transportation contract. It is federal money the county administers. In December we found out they cut out funding for the shopper's bus that cost about $16,000 to $17,000. It has been a big help for the seniors over the past 15 years.
"We used to lease a bus annually from JACO. The bus ran twice a week and on Saturdays, up to 2007. In 2008 they reduced it to Tuesday and Saturday. On Saturdays the bus went to shopping and to the Broadway Mall. It was a big help for the seniors. The bus went from Syosset to Bayville picking up people who can't drive. It had stops on corners all along the route. The seniors were disappointed to lose the help.
"I knew it was coming. The bravest thing is when a senior admits they cannot drive any longer. Then how do they get around? There are programs that can work. One is in Maine and one is in Connecticut. It is a franchise, an independent transportation network. I will work on that in a later life," she quipped.
Right now, she has some good news!
"We're starting our own food shopping assistance service using our bus. DBSC picks up people, brings them to lunch here, and then to the Stop & Shop and then they are dropped off at home. They have to sign up in advance each week for the service. It is for any member of DBSC and is on a first-come, first-served basis. There is only room for 14 people on the bus. Seniors must also make a reservation for lunch before 10 a.m. the day before so that the center knows how many we will serve.
"I was thrilled to make that announcement to the seniors. As for a second bus, I'm not sure it is possible. Wednesday, Feb. 4 was the first day of the program."
Ms. Speranza said that is not all they are doing in facing the challenges of the economy. "We had to say there will be no staff raises and all part-timers have their hours cut back. I don't know what the future holds. I can't even think about it," she said.
DBSC is a member of a coalition for those who serve seniors and is in contact with her colleagues facing similar situations. The coalition met on Thursday, Feb. 5 in Hicksville at the headquarters of Catholic Charities. The group includes: DBSC: Visiting Nurse Association of LI; Catholic Charities; JASA; Penninsula Counseling for Alzheimer's; Glen Cove Senior Center; Education and Assistance Corporation (headed by Lance Elder, CEO); Family & Children's Services; Nassau Suffolk Law Services for Seniors; and they are meeting with the Mental Health Alliance which might become a member.
"We are the advocates for seniors in Nassau County. All the senior service providers were asked to form a coalition to be the voice of the seniors. I did testify on better transportation and the funding needs before the legislature," Ms. Speranza said.
She wondered aloud about the cuts, saying "How does that affect DBSC, we just don't know. We really need the community to know what is going on here at Doubleday. We need help. People just need to be aware of what is going on."
She said the coalition also testifies before the Town of Oyster Bay every February on the needs of providing senior services. The town provides 2 percent of the center's funding. She will be testifying before the board sometime this month to see what funding the town will provide for the center.
DBSC provides a lunch for their seniors Monday through Friday. "Last year we served about 13,000 meals. That's a lot of meals."
Additionally DBSC has added two new services on Wednesdays. One is a food pantry open 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the other is the Silver Threads, a shop for secondhand items open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"We're happy that in these economic times that we can offer these services. All the food for the pantry is donated by the Celia Flower Food Pantry and we asked the seniors to donate non-perishable foods and canned goods to help others," said Ms. Speranza.
"Those receiving the food must be screened by Edna Dormer, LMSW, DBSC social services coordinator, for eligibility. The pantry will be open once a week on Wednesdays from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Since all the food is donated it doesn't require a penny from DBSC. The reason we can run the two programs is that we have the building. The Silver Threads will be located on the porch permanently. It will benefit DBSC a bit, but we are selling gently used clothes with gentle pricing," she said. "We have seniors from all different walks of life who come through our doors. Last year we had 1,775 unduplicated seniors who came through our doors. We had 1,327 the year before." She said there are boxes in the foyer for donations of items such as coats and boots.
Besides the county funding being in question she said, "NYS funding is also up in the air. Between the county and New York State, everything is questionable at this point."
"I did have a meeting with the seniors and some came up with suggestions. At this point we just want to see what the county will do. There is a gap in the county budget of about $130 million that may be $150 million."
She said Mr. Suozzi is hoping they will get the cameras catching people jumping the red lights to bring in revenue, that and extra taxes on cigarettes. He, as is Governor David Paterson, is looking everywhere for added revenue.
Ms. Speranze said, "Another reality for the center to face is that since the Older American Act of 1965 you cannot charge seniors for service if you accept federal funding. Therefore, we charge only a suggested donation for lunch and for classes. We don't charge a fee. I will be meeting with the board of directors within the next week or two to talk about things.
"We don't get any financial assistance on exercise classes and we have 17 unique classes and get funding for only one. They are paid for with donations and the donations don't cover the costs. This is part of the 'cannot charge' law. We are happy to take donations for sure.
"We can't charge for the nutrition or transportation services because they are federally funded. We can suggest a donation but it is not mandatory for services.
"We all just love this place and what it stands for. We will be celebrating our 32nd anniversary on Feb. 10, with a party. We really don't want anything to happen to his place. And it is a savior for people day in and day out. It makes us know we have to do everything to keep it going.
"Say a prayer for us," she ended.