For Seniors, the Cold Brings Isolation and Missed Meals

Marble Hill Senior Center member Crispin Lebron runs his karaoke machine to a near-empty room on Jan. 24, 2014. Attendance at the center was down sharply after the latest winter storm. (Steven Rosenbaum/NY City Lens)

Marble Hill Senior Center member Crispin Lebron runs his karaoke machine to a near-empty room on Jan. 24, 2014. Attendance at the center was down sharply after the latest winter storm. (Steven Rosenbaum/NY City Lens)

Much of the attention surrounding New York City’s recent severe winter weather has been focused on the inconvenience the snow and ice bring to the everyday lives of millions — poor plow service on the Upper East Side; hundreds of cancelled flights at Newark, LaGuardia and JFK; traffic delays. But there are smaller costs, too.

At the Marble Hill Senior Center in Upper Manhattan, the past weeks have meant a steep decline in attendance, and that means isolation and a missed meal for many seniors.

Attendance has dropped with the cold weather, says Dan Schmidt, director of the center. Poverty rates in the area are as high as 29 percent, and as many as 41 percent of households receive federal food stamp benefits. Since a main draw of the senior center is the $1 lunch available to seniors every day, some have missed out on an important meal.

According to Schmidt, in good weather, an average of 55 seniors from the area surrounding Marble Hill in Manhattan and Kingsbridge in the Bronx come to the center for the reduced-price lunch. Since the temperatures plunged and the snow banks rose, however, that number has fallen. After this last storm, only about 25 showed up on Tuesday and Wednesday. As the week went on, attendance has not increased by much. At last count, Friday saw fewer than 30 diners by the noon start time.

In this weather, “most of the people who are coming are those who really need the meal,” Schmidt said.

Christine Wright, who uses a walker, lives in the city-run Marble Hill Houses has been coming to the senior center almost every day for nearly the past eight years. For her, like many others, coming to the center is not just about the lunch. It is a place to enjoy programs, games and camaraderie. But with temperatures this cold, she decided to stay at home until Friday this week.

Luckily for Wright, she was able to get some meals delivered by a community organization. Wright said she needed to limit her time away from her apartment. “I go to Target, come back and stay in,” Wright said. “If I come out in the snow and stay here, my legs get stiff.”

So for Wright, classes and activities were replaced by soap operas this week. “I miss here. I miss the people here,” she said.

According to Schmidt, attendance for center programs this week has been very low. On a normal day, some events can draw 15 to 20 people, but those numbers have reached the low single-digits. Only two women were in the weekly arts and crafts class mid-morning Friday, which usually draws six to eight participants.

Sheila Zucker, who has lead the class for 34 years, did not seem disheartened by the scant attendance. She knows the important role the center plays for its members. “The center is functioning as an aid to the community for those that want to participate,” Zucker said.

With temperatures forecast to stay cold for much of this week, that important role might be put on hold for a bit longer.

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