Leaning gingerly on her cane, Celeste VanFleet slowly made her way to a little folding table in the Pine Bush Area Public Library. Soon, three other senior citizens joined her, each taking a side of the table on gray folding chairs. One of the seniors pulled out a deck of cards and started dealing.
It was the Bridge Club’s time at the library, a sacred ritual for all involved.
“Bridge is a vital part of my life,” VanFleet said. The 95-year-old travels to Pine Bush every week from Middletown to play bridge.
Karen Fox, Pine Bush Area Library Adult Program Coordinator, said social activities such as the ones provided by area libraries are important for seniors because it staves off isolation and provides mental and social stimulation.
“They have something to look forward to every day,” Fox said.
Libraries are not only community hubs, but valuable resources to seniors. Area libraries host adult programs where seniors can knit, play cards, garden, play board games and discuss books.
There are several senior groups that host social gatherings and other events in Montgomery, Walden, Shawangunk and Crawford. However, all these events take effort, energy and reliable transportation to attend.
Some seniors face social isolation due to limited transportation, declining health or other factors, according to several who work with seniors.
Several options for transportation do exist, such as the Dial-A-Bus, which provides transportation between Crawford and the Town of Montgomery, but there are many locations that are not accessible by public transportation. Taxis, Ubers and Lyfts are another option, however these can be very expensive.
This leaves many seniors dependent on family, friends and community services for transportation, which can cause some to struggle to maintain their independence.
“To do things like go to the doctor or go to ShopRite or get their hair done, it’s a challenge they face every day,” Town of Montgomery Senior Independence Project (TOMSIP) Coordinator Eileen Steed said.
TOMSIP is an all-volunteer organization that provides transportation and other resources to Montgomery seniors. Steed said the program has 92 seniors, called neighbors, enrolled for assistance in the program.
Steed said the largest obstacle area seniors face is transportation. TOMSIP strives to provide one request a week per neighbor, however this is subject to the number of volunteers available. Some neighbors need more than one request per week.
TOMSIP neighbor Peggy Romer said she uses the service for medical visits. Her husband, George, is on dialysis, so the couple needs to pay $25 each way for taxis to his medical appointments. Without TOMSIP, the transportation to dialysis cost the couple $125 a week.
While Romer said she is grateful to TOMSIP for any assistance they provide, the couple has been struggling to receive rides from TOMSIP because the organization is short-handed. However, the couple has no choice.
“I’m not losing my husband over a ride,” Romer said.
Audrey Derby also uses TOMSIP as a neighbor for medical visits and shopping trips. She said the only time she hasn’t received rides was during bad winter weather, and she wouldn’t want to be on the roads anyway.
Without the service, Derby said transportation would be very difficult because she could not afford taxis.
Several seniors in and around Crawford said transportation is difficult in rural areas without the services of more urban areas like Montgomery. Without transportation, one senior resident of Burlingham said several of her older neighbors struggle to socialize with others.
Of the four towns in the Wallkill Valley, Gardiner has the largest population of seniors, with approximately 19 percent of the population 65 years or older, according to estimated 2018 U.S. census population data. Shawangunk has the smallest portion of seniors, with approximately 13 percent of its population 65 and over.
TOMSIP is currently looking for more volunteers. An informational meet and greet will be held on Aug. 21 at 10 a.m. at the Borland House House Inn, 130 Clinton Street, Montgomery. For more information, call TOMSIP at 457-4138.