Nutrition site has more than food HOWARD COUNTY SENIORS

FRIENDSHIPS PROVIDE LIFE SUPPORT

December 23, 1992|By Dolly Merritt | Dolly Merritt,Staff Writer

For the 25 or so regulars, it's a home away from home, a place for a hot lunch, warm friendships, reminiscing and even activism.

That's been the pattern at the Emory United Methodist Church in Ellicott City since it became a nutrition site for seniors five years ago. There, friendships are forged among the neighborly group that shows up five days a week.

"We are very active," said Rosa Lee Kerr, 70, of Ellicott City. "We don't sit around and talk about our ailments."

They travel and bowl and lunch and visit together. They have helped each other through troubles and marched together in protest.

"The camaraderie is so great; most of the people want to be together," said 65-year-old Grace Graham.

The smell of fresh coffee welcomed the crowd on a recent morning as they ambled in from the cold.

They poured coffee, gathered at tables in the church basement for cards and needlepoint, and quickly became engrossed in conversation.

Some in the group have been neighbors all their lives, and their conversations sometimes reflect the past.

They are alumni of Ellicott City Elementary School, which is now the Greystone Condominiums.

They recall sleigh rides "on the hill" of Rogers Avenue, an unpaved St. Johns Lane, and two former theaters -- the Earle and the Ellicott -- on Main Street.

"Everybody used to know everybody and when you walked down Main Street and saw strangers, you would ask who they were," said Velva Howard, 65.

Carla Buehler, director of the Ellicott City program, says that in spite of the small-town closeness of many of its members, the group strives to make everyone feel welcome.

One former out-of-towner, Virginia Bakutis, 79, moved into the county five years ago from Baltimore and was coaxed by her daughter to visit the nutrition site. Today she refers to it as "the club."

"This is the best place in Ellicott City," said Mrs. Bakutis, who visits every day. "There was nothing to do when I moved here and it was great to meet the different people. . . . We are one happy family."

Two years ago, a group member's leg was amputated and he couldn't be released from a hospital because he had no family to care for him, Mrs. Buehler said.

"Some of us attended his physical therapy sessions and learned how to teach him to walk upstairs with a walker," she said. "After 22 months, he moved into a ground level apartment in the same complex that the group helped to find."

Today, the 75-year-old Ellicott City resident drives to the church daily and says he would "go crazy" if he couldn't go.

Others share similar sentiments.

Florence Burgess, 91, is the group's oldest member. She drives her 1972 Chrysler to the church every Tuesday from her Ellicott City home because she enjoys "meeting friends, chatting with them and enjoying the lunch."

She talks about the many changes she has seen in the town over the years. "I like change and if I adjust, it will keep me alive," she said.

Charles Hilt, 79, and Jack Campbell, 74, paused from a card game to sum up their feelings.

"It's nice to have another kind of family," Mr. Hilt said.

"The food is good and there are some good-looking women," said Mr. Campbell with a mischievous grin. Like a family, the seniors united two years ago when a bad economy threatened financial cuts to the county's eight nutrition sites.

Carrying picket signs to a public hearing that read, "Why Can Seniors Eat Only Three Days a Week?" and "Senior Meals and Programs Will Be Cut 40 Percent," the group got its point across. The sites got permission to operate from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. five days a week.

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