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Grant to provide seniors with healthy meals

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Elderly folks at the Mount Carmel Senior Center will finally receive the healthy meals they’ve been longing for. But there are still other areas in desperate need of help, say senior center administrators.

Last Thursday, April 15, Senator Jeff Klein presented the center, which is on Southern Boulevard, with a check for $15,000. The money will go toward purchasing healthier food options for the seniors.

“I can’t think of any better way to help our community than to help our senior citizens,” said Klein. “The one thing we haven’t found is a cure for loneliness. The ability for seniors to come out, see friends, and dance, I think that’s worth its weight in gold.”

Paul Fracassi, director of the center, said this money is especially helpful during the current time of economic instability, and that seniors are eager to start eating better food. However, there is more to be done at Mount Carmel. According to Fracassi, the staff members of the senior center recently agreed to take a pay cut of a half hour each day because the city cut the center’s funding by about 4.5%, which in their particular contract equals $18,000. Starting July 1, each staff member will work seven hours a day but get paid for six and a half.

Not many businesses have employees that would sacrifice pay, but Fracassi said “We agreed to do this, to work an extra half hour a day for free, to keep this place open. Food has to come first.” Due to the same hard economy that led the state to cut the center’s funding this year, the Council of Belmont, which is the center’s primary sponsor for senior services, took a $25,000 cut in their budget. Therefore, $5,000 dollars of Klein’s grant will go to the Council of Belmont, essentially to pay for Mount Carmel’s rent. All of the rest, $10,000, will go directly to the new food options.

“The city only gives us $49,500 for food costs, and last year we spent $62,000,” Fracassi explained, “so the $10,000 will help us bridge that gap.” However, it might only be a temporary solution: With food costs going up, Fracassi said, “We’ll spend even more than $62,000 next year, probably about $65,000. So we’ll still be $6,000 short and will need to ask the borough president for help.”

Klein was aware of the financial struggles the senior center has been experiencing, and said that their proposed healthy meals program impressed him. But the state was not giving them enough money to have truly healthy meals. “Nothing could be more important than people leading active, healthy lives,” he said.

Joe Marano, who works for the Council of Belmont, said that Klein’s office might also be giving the senior center separate money to help fix up their kitchen and facilities. Fracassi rattled off a laundry list of repairs the facility needs, including new stoves and burners and a new baseboard heater. “If that money does come through, it will be huge,” he said. “For instance, we have a walk-in freezer from 1975 that’s in constant disrepair and breaks down a lot. Plus there’s a rodent problem.”

Clearly the $15,000 for food and rent is a good start, but there are other problems that are wearing thin on the seniors as well. “We still have big holes to fill,” said Fracassi.

Reach Daniel Roberts at (718) 742-3383 or droberts@cnglocal.com

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