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Elderly miss socialization at senior centers


Audrey Cupolo said she is heartbroken. The East Norwich senior, who uses a wheelchair, has depended on the Life Enrichment Center of Oyster Bay to give her life meaning, she said. The spread of the coronavirus brought the center’s programs and activities to an end for the time being on March 13, following a directive from County Executive Laura Curran. Cupolo said that a chapter of her life ended with the closure.

“The senior center is my second family,” Cupolo, 78, explained, her voice breaking. “It gave me a reason to get up in the morning, to get dressed, socialize and exercise.”

Many seniors are also dependent on the center for their lunches. At first, Executive Director Judy Palumbo tried to continue to provide them, encouraging older adults to stop by and take “grab and go” offerings. But she became concerned that the potential exposure was too hazardous for them. A daily delivery of pre-made frozen meals to homebound members began, but that ended on Monday because, Palumbo said, she was concerned for her kitchen staff. Social distancing, she said, is difficult when preparing meals in a kitchen. The plan for this week was to deliver a week’s worth of food, which was done on Monday. 

Dan McGowan, 78, a retired New York City Transit Police officer, has been a part-time driver for the center for 20 years. He takes seniors to the center three times a week, something he said he enjoys. 

Last week Mc-Gowan delivered the lunches, prepared by the center’s chef, Anthony Moschella. Many of the recipients of the food were the same people he drives to the center. 

“The seniors were really grateful to get what we had, even though they’ll have to prepare it a little,” he said. “It’s very satisfying for us to do something for the seniors that they can’t do for themselves.”

McGowan has developed relationships with many of them, he said, and they depend on him. “Before this happened, even in snow and rain, nothing keeps the seniors home,” he said. “They’d say to me, ‘Why do we want to stay home and look at the four walls?’”

John Cosgrove, 73, who is retired from the New York City Police Department, also drives for the center. “This is very hard for the seniors,” he said. “Some live alone, and some are disabled. When I brought the food to the door they were so happy to see me, even though they couldn’t open the door to take it from me.”