The senior center, located at 68-07 Burns Street, has been around for 36 years and offers a large array of fitness, educational and recreational programing to seniors aged 60 and older living in Forest Hills and neighboring areas.
Most recently, the center started offering a limited amount of free meals for seniors to take home and eat over the weekend in addition to a weekday service that provides lunch daily.
The weekend meal program, which is fully funded by the Department for the Aging, allows seniors to take home one free weekend meal from YI Forest Hills Senior League.
To be eligible, seniors must be at least 60 years old and eat lunch at the Center on Friday. To sign up for the free meal, seniors sign in at the front desk of the Center on Friday morning.
Like many Department for the Aging-funded centers, lunch at the YI Forest Hills Senior League offers its members an affordable daily lunch as it’s contribution-based. The center suggests a two dollar contribution for the daily lunch although the weekend meal is free.
There is a limited quantity of free meals available each week and seniors are served on a first-come, first-serve basis after they’ve signed up.
When the senior center began the weekend meal program a few weeks ago, they provided 20 free weekend meals per week. Due to interest, the center increased the weekend meals to 30 per week.
By the summer, Director Hindy Chanales said they could increase the amount once more depending on the demand.
“The earlier you come in the morning, the more likely it is that you will have the opportunity to get the take home meal,” Chanales noted.“There’s something nice about having a social lunch and being integrated with other people.”
The lunch also encourages people to eat healthier, she added.
“When you’re home alone, you might just grab whatever you have in your pantry, but these meals are extremely affordable and well-balanced,” Chanales said.
All meals served at the Center are carefully reviewed by a nutritionist and follow the DFTA nutrition guidelines.
YI Forest Hills Senior League is contracted with Diplomat Catering who provides daily meals such as eggplant rigatoni, salmon, stuffed cabbage, chicken marsala, veggie burgers, hot deli roast beef, pot roast and more. The kitchen, run by Yvonne Leslie, is a well run operation. Leslie has the ability to remember and personalize meals to fit a senior’s needs, which is impressive since the center has a rotation of nearly four hundred members over the years.
The weekend meal is typically the same meal as Friday’s main offering. For instance, next weekend’s Friday lunch meal, consisting of apricot glazed chicken, challah roll, sweet noodle kugel, sauteed spinach, fresh fruit, juice and milk, will also be available to take home for the weekend.
“For people who can’t cook for themselves, can’t get around as much or have a financial restrain, this is a great opportunity,” Chanales said. “You pop the meal in the microwave, heat it up and have a full delicious, well balanced meal in minutes.”
According to Chanales, there are two important factors when it comes to serving seniors.
“No matter what life stage you’re in, if you spend a lot of time at home and are not active, it’s very detrimental an individual,” she said. “The whole purpose of our senior center is to enhance the lives of seniors to enable them to live a quality life in their own homes.”
While people may have the misconception that senior centers are for an older crowd who aren’t able to get around on their own or cannot afford, Chanales stressed that it’s also a matter of making new friends and staying active.
At the same time, “There are people who worked hard their entire life that are getting nice pensions, but expenses have gone up from 40 years ago and it can’t cover the basic costs of living,” she said.
A variety of programming for senior citizens is available at the Center. Beyond lunch meals, the center offers activities such as daily fitness classes, educational and recreational programming and bus trips.
With the help of Council Member Karen Koslowitz, the Center now offers the citywide Su Casa art program, where local artist Yvonne Shortt assists participants in a multimedia class.
Another new program underway is the “Trace Your Roots” program.
The program was inspired by a group trip to a genealogy center in Manhattan where participants were able to find documents relating to their family tree. The Center is working with Ancestry.com to make these records available for the Center’s new Trace Your Roots program.
“One thing that I love about this center is that it’s so culturally diverse,” Chanales said.
The center has a large Asian and Jewish population but seniors come from all groups including Christian, Italian, African American and more.
Chanales, who has been the director for about a year and a half, called YI Forest Hills Senior League “The Center With a Heart,” which is a saying she adopted from previous director, Susan Rabinowicz, who recently retired after 26 years.
She further explained that even though YI Forest Hills Senior League is always busy, she and her staff make it a priority to know everyone.
If they’ve noticed that a regular member hasn’t visited the center in a few days, Chanales or assistant director Natella Barayeva reach out to the senior or a family member to check up on them.
“It’s like an extension of family,” Chanales said. “We have people here in their mid-60s and people in their high-90s, there are people who come here every day to hang out with their friends and people who come when they have a day off from work. Everyone knows they can feel comfortable here.”
If you would like more information about the program, stop by the office, call 718-520-2305 or email the center at email@example.com.