By Alexander Dworkowitz
More than 20 elderly men and women took to the streets of Whitestone Friday with a group of politicians to protest the threatened closing of a neighborhood senior center.
Due to the budget cuts at the city Department of Aging, the JASA senior center, which operates out of the Whitestone Hebrew Center at 12-45 Clintonville St., is slated to close at the end of the fiscal year in July.
But the seniors who use the center and number more than 100 have teamed up with area politicians to do everything in their power to get the funding for the center reinstated before the city produces its final budget for the next fiscal year.
“This center is a necessity,” said Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), speaking in front of the steps to the center. “It is not underutilized.”
Avella’s call was not solitary. He was joined by U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Whitestone) and state Assemblywoman Ann-Margaret Carrozza (D-Bayside).
The politicians criticized the city’s decision to cut the JASA program, which brings senior citizens together every Monday morning for cards and lunch.
Bob Weber, director of group services for JASA, has estimated the program cost $40,000 annually. But he said since the city intended to provide the same number of meals at a different location, the city would save only $20,000.
The projected $20,000 savings is part of a $924,000. The consolidation plan is part of $26.1 million in cuts to the Department of Aging, which is facing a reduction in its overall budget of $26.1 million.
At the rally, Carrozza said the money saved was not worth the loss of such services.
Stavisky echoed Carrozza’s sentiment, adding that many of the seniors could not make the trip to other centers further away from their homes.
“Where are they supposed to go?” she asked. “They don’t drive … if they don’t have a program, they stay home. And what happens? Their health deteriorates.”
Pat Wilks, a spokeswoman for the Department of Aging, emphasized in a phone interview that the cuts were not final. However, she said the cuts at the Whitestone center and other similar centers would enable to department to preserve its primary functions.
“It is only one day a week,” said Wilks, who added the seniors could travel to the nearest kosher senior center at 26th Avenue and Corporal Kennedy.
But the seniors objected strongly to the idea of having to travel to the center in Clearview two miles away.
“A great contingent of our members live in the area,” said Rebecca Grossman, president of the center. Grossman said the seniors would have to take two buses to make the trip to the Clearview center.
“Can you picture a senior getting off a bus, waiting for another bus, with a cane in the cold?” she asked.
Florence Lobel, who comes to the center every Monday, rang a similar note before the rally.
“I’m 85,” she said. “I can’t walk two blocks. I can’t go two miles!”
During the rally, Crowley said the federal government needed to begin paying some of the $20 billion promised to the city after it was attacked on Sept. 11.
Crowley said he would speak of the senior center in Congress as a reason for the federal government to make sure the city received its funding.
“I’m going to use this in Washington as well,” he said.
Rabbi Steven Graber of the Whitestone Hebrew Center spoke of the need for a commitment to the elderly.
“These people have put their time in with the community,” he said.
With the seniors, many of whom are in their 80s, holding up signs and chanting, Stavisky shouted out, “Nobody here’s old!”
Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.