GRAMERCY PARK — Stein Senior Center has seen its lunch crowd almost double ever since another senior center closed two months ago, but city funds aren’t keeping pace, according to the center’s director.
Under its contract with the city's Department for the Aging, the Stein center gets funding for 109 free or low-cost lunches per day. But on Stein’s opening day in its new permanent location at 204 E. 23rd St earlier this month, 178 seniors arrived in search of lunch, forcing the center to turn many seniors away.
“Meals have been going up tremendously,” said Jane Barry, executive director of Stein. “So far we’ve been ok, but if it keeps going up, it might be a problem.”
The center had 189 seniors show up for lunch on Feb. 25 and 150 on Feb. 26, Barry told members of Community Board Six’s Health, Senior and Disability committee on Tuesday. They've been forced to use funds allotted for other services — including cleaning — to pick up the slack for lunch costs, Barry said.
The surge in hungry seniors comes on the heels of the closure of the Community Lounge Senior Center at 155 E. 22nd Street, which shuttered on Dec. 31. Currently, Stein serves about 75 seniors who formerly were regulars at the Community Lounge, Barry said.
Stein offers lunch on a walk-in basis to anyone 60 years old and up from Monday - Friday between 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. They ask for a suggested donation of $2.
Community Lounge Senior Center’s landlord, Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church, notified the center that it would be closing it so that it could use the place for something else, said Ahsia Badi, the current chair of the committee.
“After checking their financial cycles, they realized that they needed to use the space for different programming,” said Badi.
Apart from Stein, the only senior center within the boundaries of Community Board Six is at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, located at 331 70th St., so many of the seniors who had attended Community Lounge Senior Center before it closed are coming to Stein for lunch, said Barry.
The CB6 committee had invited Barry to the meeting to evaluate the neighborhood’s demand for senior services and to offer help in getting Stein more resources.
“Really there’s nothing in the middle of the district,” said Wilbur Weder, the former chair of the CB6 committee, who organized the meeting. “We have the highest percentage of seniors of any community board. A hot lunch at a reasonable price is very important.”
Barry said the center also provides social and physical activities for more than 200 seniors on a regular basis, including opera appreciation, pilates and belly dancing.
A spokeswoman for the Department for the Aging said that it would track the demand for senior services and act accordingly.
“As some centers open and others close, our staff closely monitors the average number of lunches served daily and makes adjustments as needed to support the program,” said a spokeswoman for the Department for the Aging.