Breaking Bread Together

Philipstown seniors share meals and camaraderie

By Lois Powers

An enclave of seniors forms daily behind the Philipstown Town Hall to have lunch, play cards or pool, or perhaps even sign up for line-dancing or exercise classes, all as part of what is commonly known as the Nutrition Center housed in the American Legion Hall on Cedar Street in Cold Spring.

Originally migrating in the 1980s from St. Mary’s Episcopal Church to the Methodist Church to the VFW Hall on Kemble Avenue, the center’s current location provides a gathering place where any Philipstown resident aged 60 and older can enjoy a nutritious meal, good company and varied activities (even Wii bowling!) five days a week.

Seniors at the Nutrition Center in Cold Spring

Seniors at the Nutrition Center

Karen Mahon, coordinator of Nutritional Services for the Putnam County Office for the Aging in Carmel, estimates 25-45 seniors drive, walk or are driven daily by county van to spend their lunchtime together. “I was the site manager at the Nutrition Center in Cold Spring for 10 years, so the place and the people hold a special place in my heart,” she said in a recent phone interview.

“Everything is wonderful here!” stated Maria Covelli, the enthusiastic van driver who shuttles Philipstown’s older residents to and from the center. “Most of the people who come here live alone; here they make friends and socialize.”

Former Nelsonville Mayor Ed Cleary is an outreach worker for the Office for the Aging and visits the center regularly to advise seniors on government-funded resources, like HEAP, for help with winter heating costs. Cleary also drives those needing rides to doctor appointments and can be reached at his office at the VFW Hall on Kemble Avenue or by calling 845-265-3359. The Office for the Aging also provides an adult daycare program that is offered at the Putnam Valley Senior Center off of Route 301. (For more information, call Frances Kennedy at 845-808-1730.)

“We have great programs for seniors in the county,” said Michele DiMarco, Putnam Valley Nutrition Center’s building manager. “We help those in need get food stamps, help fill out important paperwork, and have a retired seniors volunteer program helping others in our communities. We help keep people socially active — we would like people to know we’re not just meals!”

While all the lunch-goers this reporter spoke with shared a common feeling of goodwill and appreciation for the staff and services provided by the Office for the Aging at the Nutrition Center, the oft-publicized, long-standing thorny issue that stirs a chorus of agitation is the limited, aged, one-room space the American Legion Hall provides. The eight small windows there are close to the ceiling, preventing anyone from seeing outside; the dining tables serve as the activities tables and share a crowded space with the pool table, with moving cue-sticks and lunch-goers heads vying for space.

Site Manager Rhonda Haussman, left, transportation driver Maria Covelli, and Lorie Etta of food services

Site Manager Rhonda Haussman, left, transportation driver Maria Covelli, and Lorie Etta of food services

“We have no privacy, no quiet place here,” reported Tina Gilsenan, having lunch at the center with her husband, John. “People are playing cards or music or pool while others try to talk or knit. We need a bigger space.”

Ten-year Office for the Aging veteran and Nutrition Center Site Manager Rhonda Haussmann concurred on the need for a new senior center location but looks on the bright side: “We are here to make people happy and do our best with what we have. We call this the ‘Friendship Center,’ and that’s what our staff strives to create.”

Apparently, over the years a few romances have blossomed, with several couples actually marrying. And Lorie Etta, 47, manager of food services at the center, explained how she found a second family working there, since her mother passed away when Lorie was a child. “This is a great place; people should come and give us a chance,” she said.

While the limited space may foster closer ties, it also creates an unfortunate problem during holiday events when the center becomes packed, forcing some seniors to be turned away. Over the years, alternate sites for the Cold Spring Nutrition Center have been considered, such as the old ruler factory or the closed upholstery plant, the defunct Nycrest Corp. building off of Route 9, and of course, the elusive near mythical Butterfield property — frustratingly for longtime seniors, to no avail.

On any given day at the Cold Spring Nutrition/Friendship Center, any number of notables can be found: Sayoko Tomicawa, a former employee of the British Embassy in Japan and whose husband was a three-time Emmy-winning news reporter and documentary film writer; Cleary, Nelsonville’s mayor for 18 years; Marlene Bowman, Philipstown’s court clerk for 25 years and mother of Cold Spring Fire Company President Michael Bowman; Don MacDonald, historian for the Village of Cold Spring and Town of Philipstown; or Sara Sevastano, now 90 years old, an assistant teacher in Philipstown until she retired last year at the age of 89 — to highlight a few.

All are welcome to the good food and good company. For more information on the Nutrition Center or senior transportation, call Haussmann at 845-265-3952.

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