A group of feisty seniors who lost their contract for a kosher lunch program this year can continue gathering at the West Side Institutional Synagogue now that the City Council provided discretionary funds in the budget completed last week.
The club faced a June 30 deadline to obtain about $400,000 needed for rent and salaries at the program, previously provided by New York’s Department for the Aging with help from the Jewish Association of Services for the Aging (JASA). It feeds between 40 and 75 seniors daily and provides exercise, entertainment and benefits assistance.
It’s the only kosher senior lunch program between the Lower East Side and Washington Heights, organizers say.
“Instead of waking up alone [on July 1st], the seniors at Club 76 can go to their program as usual,” said Glenn Richter, a retired city worker who is an activist for the club.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a candidate for mayor, and West Side Councilwoman Gale Brewer, in negotiations with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s budget staff, allocated $412,000 in the budget to replace the grant lost last year when DFTA, in its latest review of proposals, decided to fund another area program a few blocks away targeting lower-income seniors in public housing. Together with funds from JASA, the money will allow the five-day program to continue without reductions.
JASA officials were in regular contact with city officials to try to keep the club open.
“We are thrilled that we will [still] be at Club 76 and all the hard work of the members of senior center really helped sustain the program,” said JASA chief services officer Leah Ferster.
According to an account by Richter, a turning point came on May 26, when Friends of Club 76 president Stuart Lahn hand-delivered a letter to the doorman at Quinn’s building inviting her to visit the center. She showed up on May 30 along with her father, Lawrence Quinn, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal and Gale Brewer on an evening when the group was celebrating May birthdays. Quinn promised that evening to find the funding.
Three days later advocates for the center attended a budget hearing for DFTA, after which Commissioner Lilliam Barrios-Paoli also promised to find the funding. Nevertheless, the group kept up the pressure until the final budget was passed last week, including the discretionary funding for Club 76.
“This became a real team effort, with JASA working the inside track, us seniors more visible on the outside, and Ms. Quinn and Ms. Brewer doing the heavy political lifting,” Richter told The Jewish Week via email. “We also got plenty of other support, for example, from several secular neighborhood groups and Shelly Fine from Community Board 7. “
Brewer, who earlier this year secured enough funds to keep the center open through June, said the activism of the club members was instrumental in winning the new funding.
“We had convinced DFTA of the importance of this particular center because of the kosher meals,” she told The Jewish Week Monday. “But in addition, you have to credit the participants and the way they organized. Last year they were caught off guard; this year they didn’t want the same thing to happen. They had rallies, made phone calls and involved the block association and community Board.”
“And I think they loved doing it.”
But the activists are mindful that the reprieve is temporary and the focus must now shift to finding a permanent revenue stream.
Lahn said he told the center members, “Pat yourselves on the back but don’t break your arm, because we have more work to do. We need to get some baseline funding. And next year there is a tougher fiscal cliff with a new administration.”