SOUTH PLAINFIELD – The South Plainfield Senior Center staff was determined to hold their annual picnic this year, and on July 22, the smell of burgers and hot dogs on the grill filled the air along with patriotic music for the Senior Center Drive Thru Cookout. Over 125 seniors turned into the center’s lot once again, welcomed by staff members excited to see them and volunteers manning the grills to hand out a delicious assortment of picnic food.
“It was all smiles all day and patriotic music,” said Tree Olano, Senior Center Director. “It was just a great day. They are so lonely and if we can just give them a little bit of normalcy and a little bit of what the senior center’s all about, a sense of family, we’re going to do everything in our power to do so.”
Since early morning on July 22, the staff and community volunteers worked to make everything perfect from decorations adorning the center’s covered archway to preparing the food.
“I’m very happy for today that the seniors had the opportunity to drive by and see the staff that I know they’ve been missing so much from home,” said Councilwoman Christine Faustini, Council Liaison for the Senior Center.
Burgers, cheeseburgers, veggie burgers, hot dogs, and chili dogs were grilled fresh to order with all the toppings. Macaroni salad, chips, and cold water were also included along with a baggie full of masks, antiseptic spray and gloves.
“Today is just awesome,” said Nancy Murray, Senior Center member. “They do such a fabulous job, and everybody appreciates all the hard work.”
The Senior Center is normally the hub of activity for South Plainfield senior citizens. Members take day trips together, the center offers classes, meals are served daily, and they have parties practically every month. The most important role of the center is socialization and support. Close friendships have been made and the center has become a second home for the town’s beloved older population.
“They are struggling so the outreach is really important,” Olano said. “The phone calls that we make every day are so important. Whether they need a can of beans, or they need toothpaste or fruit or somebody to go grocery shopping for them or just somebody to talk to, we’re here. I hear all kinds of stories, and we laugh a lot on the phone. We’re just doing everything we can.”
“The senior center’s done a wonderful job reaching out to everybody every day, making phone calls and making sure everyone’s taken care of,” said Faustini. “They make sure seniors have masks, that they have food, really just making sure they have someone to talk to. We want our seniors to know that we care about them and look forward to when they can come back here and be together again.”
Although doors have been closed for members since March, staff have been hard at work to keep watch over South Plainfield seniors.
“I’ve been here since March 13th, I haven’t taken a day off because I know that this is really an essential place for seniors,” said Olano. “They do miss it, so we’re trying to keep them engaged in any way we possibly can. They miss the socialization. They’re trying to get together. They’re meeting at the park or at a friend’s house, but it’s not the same. They all want to be here together, so we’re just trying to do the best that we can.”
Each year, the senior center picnic is one of the biggest celebrations the center holds with a DJ, picnic trivia, raffles and much more.
“Normally this is a huge event that’s four hours long,” Olano said. “There’s dancing and patriotic music. We salute the flag constantly because our seniors are so patriotic. They’re so proud to be American and to share their experiences. We have so much food and it’s just a lot of fun.”
Determined to hold the event, Olano called on the community to help. Bill Ashnault and Tommy Cassio, Co-Owners of Twin City Pharmacy brought their Rutgers Twin City bus and grills.
Owner of Sal’s Spirit Shop, Sal Severini, donated food and helped distribute it. Jimmy Gustafson from McCriskin Funeral Home and Anthony Barbara manned the grills. A variety of chips was donated by Eddie Eggert and Herrs. Senior Center employees Sharon Ciullo and Angelo Paradiso as well as volunteers Pat Gustafson, Carol Thieme and Faustini handed meals to seniors as they drove through. South Plainfield Police Officers were also on hand to make sure everyone was safe. Officers Daryl Strothers, Stephen Perhach, Ken Parada and Dave Delair greeted seniors and waved them safely into the parking lot.
“This town has people that donate and want to help,” said Olano. “They said they wanted to be involved. They said they’ll cook, they’ll donate. They were here, no questions asked. They don’t need accolades. They don’t need anything. They just want to be good people. What great people to be around especially in this time, in this world, where everyone is just not so happy. That makes me happy and grateful that I have people who want to donate to the Senior Center.”
122 senior citizens attended the annual picnic. Seniors who missed their friends and the staff they love so much.
“This is one of the events where at least they were able to visit however briefly, their home away from home and get some good food and some smiles and enjoy some music and all the decorations for a while,” said Faustini. “The Senior Center has done such an incredible job reaching out to everybody, so I’m glad that today was an extension of that.”
“I feel like seniors feel like they are alone, and our job is to make sure that they know that they’re not alone,” Olano said. “We’re here for them for whatever they need. We have books, we have masks, puzzles, food, whatever they need. They can ask me for. I have people coming by for fresh vegetables because the garden is growing just to let them know that we’re here for them. They’re not alone, and we’re all in this alone together.”