Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Assemblymember Vito Lopez thanked dozens of volunteers at the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Center Christmas morning as they delivered more than 2,000 homebound meals to seniors throughout North Brooklyn.
“It’s the tough times that we have to pull together,” Mayor Bloomberg said. “If we help each other, the future is bright no matter how tough the city’s economic conditions may be.”
Preparing and distributing meals to seniors has become a holiday tradition at the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Center (319 Stanhope St.), as 150 volunteers come as early as 8 a.m. to pick up their routes through the area. In addition, 400 seniors came to the center to receive a hot meal at noon prepared by the center’s kitchen staff.
According to Senior Center Director Jeanne Laino, it took her staff the entire month of December to prepare the meals for those at home, confirm with seniors receiving meals, and schedule the routes.
“People were in the kitchen since 3 a.m. cooking,” Laino, who celebrated her twelfth year serving meals to seniors, said. “We have manicotti, pork sausage and meatballs, antipasti and salad. Fresh! Not frozen. Everything was cooked today.”
Lopez has hosted the Christmas meal at the senior center, which featured appearances by Bloomberg, Assemblymember Michael Gianiris, and Councilmember David Weprin, followed by salsa dancing among the seniors once the staff cleared the tables.
Several volunteers who drove on routes through Greenpoint and Williamsburg came back to the center after the mayor had left and expressed how much they enjoyed visiting seniors in their neighborhood.
“It gives you a reality check to deliver to people who can’t get out of their apartment to get a meal for themselves. It humbles you,” said Gerald Esposito, District Manager for Community Board 1, who delivered meals to seniors in Borniquen Houses and on Graham Avenue and Humboldt and Montrose streets. “Some day we may be in that condition and I hope someone delivers a meal to me during the holidays when that time comes.”
Ismail Feliciano, a staff member at the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, said he was hooked from the first time he gave out a meal to a resident three years ago. He has made participating in the senior center’s meals-on-wheels program a Thanksgiving and Christmas tradition ever since.
“People appreciate it so much you see tears in their eyes and they know there is somebody out there who cares about them,” Feliciano said.
Steve Levin, Chief of Staff to Lopez and a City Council candidate for the 33rd District, came back from his family’s home in New Jersey at 4 a.m. to help set up the senior center for Christmas. Levin has been volunteering at the meals program on Christmas for the past five years.
“It’s a wonderful way to spend a Christmas morning, to be with so many people and help deliver meals,” he said. It really means a lot to them. It’s a wonderful experience for seniors and volunteers alike.”