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Keep Village Senior Center Open, Advocates Beg Cardinal Dolan

 Our Lady of Pompeii, at 25 Carmine St. in the Village, has housed a senior center in its basement for more than four decades.
Our Lady of Pompeii, at 25 Carmine St. in the Village, has housed a senior center in its basement for more than four decades.
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DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian

GREENWICH VILLAGE — Elderly Village residents are pleading with Cardinal Timothy Dolan to save a senior center that is reportedly in danger of losing its longtime home in the basement of a church on Carmine Street.

In a petition that began circulating on Wednesday, the seniors at the Our Lady of Pompeii Senior Center beg Dolan to let them renew their lease at Our Lady of Pompeii church at 25 Carmine St. when it expires next June 30.

The church's pastor, Father Walter Tonelotto, had told the senior center's leaders that he wanted to clear out the space so he could make more money off of it by hosting film crews, the New York Post reported.

"We the undersigned implore you to intercede for us," reads the seniors' petition to Dolan, the Archbishop of New York. "Help us to keep our home away from home safe and accessible for our use."

State Sen. Brad Hoylman said the reports of the center's impending closure alarmed many in the neighborhood. He wrote a letter to Dolan on behalf of the seniors on Tuesday, asking the cardinal to work with Tonelotto to ensure the center remains at the church.

"It’s important to me because so many of our seniors who are vulnerable use this center,” Hoylman said. "It’s a population that we should respect and cherish and support. They built our community and we owe them to keep the center at this location."

Tonelotto did not respond to requests for comment.

The Archdiocese of New York did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The senior center has operated out of the basement at Our Lady of Pompeii for more than four decades, the seniors said, since staff from St. Vincent's Hospital reached out to local churches in 1973. The staff wanted the churches to help elderly patients without family or support, who would be in danger of malnutrition when they were released from the hospital alone after surgery.

About 100 seniors come to Our Lady of Pompeii Senior Center daily, according to a director at Greenwich House, the nonprofit that runs the center from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The director estimated the center serves about 1,400 lunches each month, for a suggested donation of $1.50 per lunch.

Some seniors stay for various activities, from fitness classes like "Chair Yoga" and "Hula Moves" to health lectures and arts and cultural seminars. The center also organizes monthly blood pressure screenings and annual flu shots, the director said.

Hoylman's letter to Dolan — also signed by City Councilman Corey Johnson, Councilwoman Margaret Chin, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, State Senator Daniel Squadron, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and Congressman Jerrold Nadler — said Greenwich House "is extremely willing to address any concerns that the church may have in order to renew the lease, including an increase in rent."

Johnson said he also reached out to Tonelotto to try to set up a meeting to discuss the issue, but his offer was rejected.

As the community organizes and the choir of voices grows louder, I hope that the Father will see the error of his ways," Johnson said, calling Tonelotto's refusal to meet "an affront to the community." 

The seniors, who say at least half the center's members are from Tonelotto's parish, believe the center's value is even more fundamental than lunches and exercise classes. It also serves as a neighborhood cooling center in the summer and heating center in the winter, the seniors said in their letter, "and provides socialization preventing isolation and a lonely death for the elderly."