‘SAVE ELM PARK SOCIAL HUB’Threat Upsets Seniors

‘SAVE ELM PARK SOCIAL HUB’

Threat Upsets Seniors

By LIBBY CUDMORE • HOMETOWN ONEONTA

Edition Of Friday, Nov. 14, 2014

ONEONTA

“Doc” Knapp presides at The Gathering Place, which the county may close to save $13,000.
“Doc” Knapp presides at The Gathering Place, which the county may close to save $13,000.

For the Gathering Post Seniors, the lunch service at the Elm Park Methodist Church isn’t just about the meal – it’s about the community.

“We’d be sitting at home doing nothing. We need this,” said Elizabeth Whiting. “We’re like a family here.”

“Right, sis,” teased Gene Baker.

Five days a week, as many as 40 senior citizens come from as far away as Unadilla, Pindars Corners and West Laurens, to play cards, dine together and socialize into the early afternoon. “I come in and sing for them,” joked Warren “Doc” Knapp. “But then they ask me to leave!”

The West End church, which also houses the Otsego County Office for the Aging, hosts one of two Oneonta sites for the senior meal program. Help with tax preparation, safe driving, line dancing and other social events are also offered.

“There isn’t hardly a day where there isn’t something going on here,” said Walt Forsythe.

But in hoping to save $13,000, the Otsego County Board of Representatives’ Budget Committee has threatened to shutter the site and combine it with the one at Nader Towers. The move will also relocate the OFA to the county-owned quarters in Old City Hall on Main Street. A public hearing will be held at the Otsego County Courthouse on Monday, Dec. 1, with a vote taken by the board on Wednesday, Dec. 3.

“They sold The Manor and now this,” said Beverly Lapp. “The county is really hitting senior citizens hard.”

“The county comes first and the seniors come last,” said Jan Ackley.

The trouble started earlier this fall, when diners were told that if fewer than 12 people signed up for the next day’s meal, the site would not serve lunch that day. “We started working on getting our numbers up,” said Baker. “A lot of people don’t know they can come here.”

On Monday, Nov. 10, 33 seniors had roasted turkey with cinnamon honey glaze, and on Tuesday, Nov. 11, 16 came for a fish sandwich and macaroni and cheese. “The food is terrific,” said Knapp. “It’s convenient, and they offer a great service to the community.”

The annual Thanksgiving dinner, held Wednesday, Nov. 19, usually draws together as many as 45 people.

But Nader Towers, many fear, can’t host the entire group. “They can only handle another 12-15 of us,” said Forcythe. “And if we wanted to go to the OFA, the Main Street parking lot is paid parking. We’ll have to get out of our cars, walk to the meter, walk back to our cars and then go in. For people who use a walker or a cane, that’s a lot of walking.”

As winter draws near, many fear that icy conditions in the visitors lot at Nader Towers will deter diners even further. “With snow and ice, it’s a long walk to that front door,” said Baker. “If you don’t live there, it’s very inconvenient.”

And with those hurdles in place, Gathering Post participants worry it’ll no longer be a place to gather.

“It’s important for seniors to get together – if we didn’t have this, a lot of us wouldn’t get out to socialize,” said Vivian Spezio. “It’s good for our health to communicate and be active.”