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been coming to the Gay 90's Diners Clubs. Those who have no transportation, we sent the S.P.A.C. Mini-bus for.
Although we started out basically as a nutritional program we have been able to use this premise as a focal point and work in our social aspects. We have conducted shopping tours, budget and menu planning sessions and have helped a number of members to actually eat nourishing meals on less money than before. It takes time to convince a person that there is a better way to shop without hurting their feelings. We have tried to show them how a combination of inexpensive products can be used in different menus to ensure proper nutrition. With the help of the New England Dairy Council we distributed pamphlets on proper diet, nutrition, and even easy recipes for 1 or 2 people. By conducting these discussions in groups, no one person felt that he was being made the focal point. It was just a friendly group discussing ways of saving money.
I feel that since our program is of nutritional origin, 2 door prizes of food should be given away by S.O.S. at each meeting. We began with 3 lb. canned hams, 1 for a lady, 1 for a gentleman. The first day the hams were spotted, it sounded as though a hive of bees had entered the room. This was hard for many to believe we were actually going to give away hams! I must admit, I began to worry when I realized we only had 2 hams and 200 people. Before our program ended and our winners were drawn, bits of conversation began to drift up to the Head table. One gentleman who was attending for the first time since the death of his wife, announced to the members around him, that should he win the ham, the “party” would start at 6 p.m. in his apartment! Pretty soon, the word spread around that whoever won the ham was having a party. Before it all ended, I'd been invited to 7 different parties ! I'm really not sure who had the parties or who attended, but, I do know there have been groups who left our meals to regather later at one of the apartments for an evening. It's really quite an experience to watch 2 grammar school classmates suddenly rediscover each other, and leave arm in arm. We have even had relatives meet after a period of years, to realize they really do like each other after all.
The older years seem to bring about an honest need for companionship. We found one lady, seriously ill with Parkinson Disease and mental depression, after a few weeks of visiting her, she felt she would like to come to the Diners Club, just once before she died. She was too proud to accept our transportation and instead rode a city bus down, arriving at 9:00 A.M. one Wednesday. Her excuse for being 212 hours early was she wanted to watch some activity. Believe me, Wednesday, A.M., Kennedy Manor is full of activity. Her 1st visit was 312 months ago. Three weeks ago, she bought herself a girdle, a pants suit and had a permanent! And is quick to say, she's not about to kick the bucket, not after finding this much life!
The tragedy and reward of our programs is becoming personally involved with our members. We have a group of people who are so much in need of friends, it would be hard to avoid becoming aroused by their feelings. As an example, I've told our members that we (the staff) will help them at anytime in any manner we are capable of. One of our members, called me early one morning to whisper into the phone that someone was talking inside her head, she was quite serious! After a lengthly discussion on the phone to calm her down. I paid her a visit to find she really believed what she said. I then contacted the other Social Service Agencies for help, and after 3 weeks time she was admitted to the hospital for psychiatric care. Today, she is recovering from her mental breakdown and is looking forward to returning to the Diners Club. It is rather nerve shattering to have members in their 70's and 80's call to say good-bye before they kill themselves. This has happen to me 3 times now, and I'm happy to report I haven't gotten a speeding ticket yet, but I do still have those 3 members !
We found one of our members unconscious on the floor only after being called to check on her because no one had seen her in a couple of days. A quick trip to the hospital and expert care there brought her back to us a couple of months ago. She decided she should wear some makeup and look for a husband to keep her company, why not? She's only 83! Unfortunately, many of our members have not been found in time to save their lives. We have lost 34 members since December 1970 through death. The majority of these people lived alone with no relations in town or close friends to keep check on them. We formed a club we call the Phone-Buddies. Anyone living alone who wishes a daily phone call now receives it from another member who volunteered to make the call. They all now feel a need to help one another. We've even adopted a small poem :
No one has so little,
My jaws hurt-guess I smiled a lot today.
Some of our members have come to the office with really unique problems. One lady, 78, came in crying, but smiling. It was a very snowy, cold day and after a cup of hot coffee she began her story. She came by bus from Staten Island to Woonsocket on a job, only to find the job was no longer available when she arrived. She did find herself a room, got to the Welfare Office to seek help, then to the D & S Office without much hope because of her age, then to us. She said she heard about us on the radio and thought we might be of some help. With a few phone calls we found her a temporary home and through a co-ordinated effort, with another SPAC Program, we found her a permanent home as a Housekeeper companion. I still receive cards from her. She's quite happy and always thanks SPAC for its help.
Many of our members' problems are quite simple but perplexing to them. I've been asked to explain simple forms, for insurance, medicare, income tax, housing regulations, letters from doctors, lawyers and even read letters when the hand writing was almost impossible. I've told the members regardless of their problems, even if it seems silly, we'll try to help. One lady called me to say she had a “silly” problem and would like a good laugh, anytime! It seems that a stray cat had been crying outside her window for a couple of nights and she wasn't able to sleep. She needed a solution and unfortunately I didn't have one that was humane, except to take the cat in. The following day she called back to say she'd solved her problem. She decided that the cat was lonely, thus he whimpered. She was also lonely, so she took the cat in. They are now living happily together.
We do have some members I worry about when I see them, such as the man who had a cathart operation. Was released from the hospital on Tuesday and (ame to the Gay 90's on Wednesday. His wife protested, but he insisted it was his week to come and he wasn't going to miss out. Or the man who was released from the hospital after a heart attack and came directly to the Diners Club. Just as a lady had done a few weeks before. We must be doing something right because we haven't had a relapse yet !
We have several members who have adopted the Gay 90's as their personal crusade. After we began to give away the hams, this group began to bring in small items, mostly hand made to be raffled off. Now we find some Wednesdays we have so many gifts brought in, we must put some aside for the following week. Three of our members are very artistic and have taken over all our decorating. Each Wednesday we find decorations on the walls, flowers on each table, flowers for our waiters and waitresses, even Easter bonnets, and Mother's Day tiaras! This really adds a festive, party mood for all of our members. During the four weeks of our Easter meals, we played a couple of games for a change of pace from guest speakers. The men really surprised me. They are really a group of good sports and great teasers. They became the life of the party and those weeks everyone's jaws hurt from laughing. One man, who chose a necklace in the raffle, for his sister (?) put it on, combed his hair over his eyes, popped a stick of gum in his mouth, grabbed a broom and serenaded us in his best hard rock voice. I've even been taught the "swim" by a delightful lady confined to a wheelchair, and have seen a lady on crutches do what she called a Hi-Land fling! We just can't seem to find any modern up-to-date sheet music for our pianist. She is a delightful lady who offered her services to us during our first week in the Kennedy Manor. She is practicing to play "upbeat" music and has even offered to teach boogie-woogie !
One of my main concerns at the start of the program was the manner in which our members would be served. We felt that due to age and handicaps it would be best to serve them all seated. Our first serving was with volunteers that I practically shanghied from other SPAC programs. All it took was one announcement that we were in need of volunteers to help set up, serve and clean up. The second week 10 volunteers from our 1st group showed up early Wednesday A.M. to help out. This group has grown and now each week we average 14 volunteers
without anyone being overworked. This has given this group of men and women some useful purpose in giving of themselves to help others. They are extremely cheerful, efficient and of untold value to our program.
I felt that since my program is for the people, I should strive to give them what they wanted. I asked for volunteers to form a Gay 90's council to advise me on program formats. We had so many replies, we had to limit each group to à representation of 7 people. We now hold monthly meetings that are very informal but informative to my office. I admit this was another sneaky way of involving my people. Even though I have five Senior Citizens on my staff, I can use my younger age as an excuse, for getting my senior members involved in activities. No one knows better than the members just what is important to them. Out of our council meetings, we've received requests for professional speakers on Medicare, Social Security, Welfare Eligibility, Food Stamps and Health Care Programs. We have supplied all of these speakers to our groups now, with much success. We've all learned something new. Many of our members have learned they are eligible for benefits they did not realize existed. We've also had requests for speakers who were less formal. I rounded up a professional song writer who is a part-time comedian! He's been invited back, we all really enjoyed him. One of our local radio stations sent their mobile unit down and taped a show with the members, all as stars. It was quite a thrill for them to hear themselves on the radio that evening. It seemed they had done something really iniportant. I'm sure the members who performed will never forget that day.
Between the age and income bracket, I work with, most of my thoughts are given to providing purpose and future to the members lives. I find that planning a special event for a few weeks ahead gives the members something to look forward to. The S.O.S. Advisory Committee, composed of 16 City residents from all walks of life, is really full of great ideas, from a picnic at the beach, coming up July 21st, to a Ham and Bean supper, fishing trips, bowling leagues this summer, sewing bees, wood working for our men, card games, rides in the country. It seems that once we got our groups of members together and they became acquainter, it was easy to find six men who liked to fish. It was a simple problem of getting them together, bringing up the subject, and having one say, I have a car, be ready at 5:00 A.M. tomorrow.
We have accomplished a great deal in relieving loneliness among our lower income seniors. Everyone has a friend now, someone to share life with. We have one lady who brought her neighbor to join our club. They said they'd lived next door to each other for years and never spoke, until the one member felt her neighbor may be eligible for membership. They are now looking for an apartment they can share, They've found they have a great deal in common and enjoy each others company.
The ministers and Priests of Woonsocket have given a great deal of strength to our clubs and members. Each week we have at least two in attendance. The people enjoy talking socially with the clergy and the clergymen always come up with a cute story that results in a good laugh for all of us.
Word of good work S.O.S. is doing in Woonsocket has spread throughout the state of R.I., into Massachusetts, and as far south as North Carolina. I've received numerous inquiries on how to get a S.O.S. Program started in other communities, and I never turn down a chance to address a group on my program. I continue to say my program because to me it isn't just a job, its a way of life. I don't know of anyone, short of Billy Graham, who receives as much satisfaction from their work as I do.
When we first began to door knock to seek out members, we had approximately 20 people helping us. The SPAC Community Organizer knew the areas where the majority of the lower income seniors lived. For six weeks we wore out our knuckles and our shoes. Now, our present members are bringing in new appli. cants so fast, we have cut our door to door campaign staff to 2 people. We anticipate having to start a waiting list, which wili hirve to be held until September and our refunding. The only disappointment is every day someone becomes 55 in our city and we'll have to say wait. May the good Lord grant them the delay.
Due to requests from many of our members for home nursing care, in order to save money on hospital care, the Woonsocket branch of the American Red Cross has agreed to teach a 5 week course, free of charge, to all of our members who wish to enroll. The program will include the changing of bed linen with a patient remaining in bed, also the correct procedure for bathing a patient in bed. We have a large group of women with time on their hands, and with the aid of this course, they will find themselves in a useful position in their neighborhoods and with their families and friends who are bedridden. They will have a useful purpose to their lives. So many of our people say that time on their hands is their worst enemy. At least we've gotten them out of their rocking chairs and have them thinking of others, not just themselves.
Some of our men have expressed an interest in the Big Brothers of America. They've decided maybe they're not too old to be of value to a fatherless boy. They are quick to say they move slowly and are not well educated, but, they're willing to be a friend to a young boy. The Executive Director of Big Brothers of Rhode Island agrees with the men and will address them as a group in June.
Among our summer activities, two men who are on the S.O.S. Advisory Committee will conduct tennis classes each Sunday. Somehow they are being supplied with tennis rackets and balls. We even have a cheering section forming to root us on.
The office of S.O.S., through the Gay 90's Diners Club has indeed uncovered some interesting facts about our Seniors. Even though they have little money, there's still a spark of life in each one. It just takes a group of interested people to pull it out. Each member is involved in one or more of our activities, has something to look forward to in the future, and has at present 799 friends ready to lend them a helping hand.
ITEM 4. GOVERNMENT SURVEY OF THE FOOD LIFT INFORMATION
(Please fill out and mail back as soon as possible)
(Answer yes or no)
1. Are you still on the program? Been on only since June 1st, 1971.
2. Do you know anyone you think should be receiving Food Stamps and are not? No.
3. Are you having any problem in the Food Stamp Program. Explain why. Very satisfactory as of now—thank you.
4. Do you have any suggestion for our program FLIP. Very grateful it has helped me in getting extra food that I could not afford with only S.S.S.I. check.
5. Has this program improved your eating standards? I can get more food with the allotment of stamps, which it has helped me.
6. Would you be interested in attending a program where you could learn to eat better for less money? I have diet to follow. Thanks for your kind thoughts.
7. Did you know that you might be eligible for the Food Stamps before FLIP contacts you? I thought that only the welfare members were the only one entitled to it.
8. Do you think its best to maintain the FLIP Program? Or to go down to the Welfare Department to apply? I rather go to you people than the Welfare. I feel more at ease with the workers just like kinfolk.
9. Did you appreciate being taken in by appointments? Or rather just to walk in?
10. Do you prefer Food Stamps to Commodities? I do not know about commodities never had any. Food stamps are satisfactory so far. Any Comments? Food Stamps were a blessing to me. With them I can get better grade of meat than I could with only SSSI. Thank you. Very grateful. Keep them going.
Thank you for your participation in our program and answering these questions.
MRS. IDA WHEELER,
Director of FLIP. PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT
Eleanor F. Slater, Coordinator of the Division of Aging wishes to make all persons aware of a vicious flimflam being worked on the elderly.
A young women claiming to represent a nutritional agency of a ficticious department of “Community Relations” on Promenade Street, appears at a persons door saying she will take her food stamp money and voucher and pick-up her stamps for her at the redemption center.
The women promises to return in two or three hours but never returns.
In another variation one or two women claiming to represent Progress for Providence promise to pick-up the food stamps.
If a person comes to your door promising to purchase food stamps, ask them to show identification, get her name, then ask her to return later.
Call the agency she claims to represent to see if she is what she claims to be. Do not give money to anyone you do not know.
The only agency that performs this service is the University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension Service or a representative from F.L.I.P. or a representative from S.O.S. They do this as a courtesy to their regular clients.
ELEANOR F. SLATER, Division on Aging, Department of Community Affairs, 289 Promenade
Strect, Providence, R.I.