Dozens of Episcopal Charities programs play the vital role of providing sustenance and nutrition to New Yorkers through food pantries and soup kitchens. But some of our partner programs fill the needs of their communities in different ways, and we enjoy highlighting the diverse, creative, and sometime unconventional manners in which these programs operate. In light of this, I had the pleasure of visiting the Canterbury House Activity Center for seniors on Staten Island last week, and it was well worth the trip.
Wendy Wade, a member of the Episcopal Charities Board and Advisory Committee, joined me for this visit, which fortunately coincided with the Activity Center’s New Years’ Party. Their meeting space, on the bottom floor of Canterbury House (an affordable apartment building for the elderly, supported by St. John’s Church), was decked out with lights, streamers, noisemakers and party hats. Volunteers traveled the room with trays of treats and snacks while a friendly D.J. entertained the guests with some of their favorite oldies tunes. For many of them, this would be the only social activity they would have all week. Some came from as far as the other side of Staten Island, while others lived upstairs.
Even when they don’t have a holiday to celebrate, the Activity Center is brimming with hospitality and cheer for two afternoons every week. They provide games, music, health classes, exercise sessions and crafts, often run by guest leaders who are knowledgeable in these topics. Regardless of planned activities, the Activity Center is a casual space where visitors—around fifty a week—feel free to chat and enjoy one another’s company for as long as they like. Denise Ciluffo, Director of the Center, said that she tries to strike a balance between structured activity and social time since the guests prefer a mix. On the last Wednesday of each month, when social security benefits are stretched especially thin, the Activity Center provides a hot buffet luncheon and plays grocery bingo. It’s a fun activity that provides low-income seniors with a much-needed supplement to their food budgets.
The Canterbury House Activity Center provides a consistent source of friendship and nourishment for a group of people whose struggles with loneliness, mobility, money and health are often invisible to those around them. During our visit, Wendy and I felt the palpable warmth and communal-spirit that filled the Activity Center, and we were proud that Episcopal Charities is supporting this unique outreach effort on Staten Island.