By 11:30 a.m. on a weekday morning, the Bridgehampton Senior Center is a beehive of activity. The cooks are in the kitchen preparing lunch. With the help of a few octogenarians, the entrees and sides are dished out and steaming plates of food are lined up on a pushcart. Stella Sawicki, a Bridgehampton senior, wheels the cart through a swinging door into the cafeteria as over a dozen retirees wait for their mid-day meal. Madelaine Doran, the 82-year-old president of the center, stands at the front of the room with a microphone, leading the group in the national anthem while others work on Thanksgiving decorations at a nearby table.
Above: A senior helps serve lunch at the Bridgehampton Senior Center.
For many seniors in Sag Harbor and the surrounding community, the Bridgehampton center is an important part of their day. Southampton Town provides the lunch served at the center and maintains the building. The town, however, is proposing to lay off two positions in the senior services department next year and wishes to increase the price of the daily meal, much to the dismay of several elderly residents.
“I heard the price of lunch is going from $2.50 to $3. If I wanted a $3 lunch I could go to McDonalds,” remarked Doran who added that several seniors rely on the food provided by the town. During a later interview, town supervisor Linda Kabot noted that the fee is simply a suggested donation and isn’t a mandatory charge. However, the town is budgeting their 2010 lunch revenues based on the assumption they will receive $3 for every meal.
Over the summer, a chef was out for three weeks on medical leave. During this time, the Bridgehampton seniors were bused to the Hampton Bays center for lunch.
Kabot stated at a previous town board meeting that because of the town wide hiring freeze, the town can no longer provide backup staff for the senior center kitchen.
“What would happen if a hospital closed because they had no back-up crew?” asked Doran.
The town is proposing to cut a community service aide and a food server position within the town wide senior program next year to help defray some of the costs of running the program. During a later interview, Kabot said with the help of human services director Bill Jones, she pinpointed these positions because they would have a lesser impact on the delivery of services.
The community service aide, noted Kabot, works more as an office assistant to director of senior services Pamela Giacoia and the food server mainly prepares and serves the meals. These duties, said Kabot, could perhaps be handled by other employees within the department. She added that these two employees were close to retirement age and will most likely agree to a retirement incentive package. The town is offering to pay $500 per year of service to these employees as a way to encourage early retirement and save positions for those at the beginning or in the middle of their careers.
“The elimination of these two positions would impact service delivery,” claimed Giacoia. But as the budget is still being vetted and tweaked by the town board, she wouldn’t go into further detail. The board must file a final budget by Friday, November 20.
By removing the community service aide position, the town will save roughly $52,000 next year. The overall expenditure of the senior citizens program was reduced by around $17,000. The elimination of the food server position could also save the town close to $42,000 in 2010. The total cost of running the Southampton Town nutrition program was reduced by close to $104,000.
Despite these cuts, many area seniors still rely heavily on the centers, not only for the meals they provide, but the companionship as well.
“The center is a very nice place to come,” says Doran. “You make friends and it helps to relieve some tension.”