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Thompson slams city on senior centers

City Comptroller William Thompson aligned himself with Queens' senior citizens Monday, visiting centers in Flushing to talk about the city's Aging Department's proposal to revamp services and meals to the over-65 population.

Thompson arrived early at the Hyo Shin Bible Presbyterian Church on 166th Street, where Korean Community Service runs its Flushing Senior Center, to talk about issues that affect the community and criticized the city's plans that would change the way meals are served and which programs and services are available at centers.

The Department for the Aging currently uses the number of meals served at a center as its gauge of how well-utilized each facility is, a system Thompson regards as flawed.

"How they judge under-utilization is a major issue," he said. "People come out for dancing, yoga, pingpong, but if they're not having a meal, they're not counted."

Thompson said he would rather see DFTA look at the centers more holistically, considering usage, capacity and meals served.

The Flushing center the comptroller visited typically serves about 240 meals on-site, but only receives city funding for 130, almost twice its capacity, said Kwang Kim, president of the Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, which also runs a center in Corona.

"The reality is the need [for meals and services] is almost crazy," Kim said. "Many senior centers serving immigrants are overutilized."

DFTA Commissioner Edwin Mendez-Santiago visited the TimesLedger offices April 10 to discuss the agency's plans such as offering frozen home-delivered meals twice a week to some seniors, a plan which has been met with outcry.

"The concern was that by not having a daily knock on the door, their safety would be compromised," Mendez-Santiago said. "I find it surprising because this is based on choice."

Thompson panned the idea to deliver frozen meals. DFTA piloted a similar program in the Bronx, substituting the frozen meals for daily deliveries of hot food.

"With the meal delivery program, the Bronx felt pressure" to switch to the frozen food, Thompson said. "DFTA tends to miss the point: Those getting the meals tend to be about 85 years old, and they get to see a person who delivers their food every day."

Another concern is the menu, with DFTA seeking to streamline the number of kitchens preparing the frozen meals, Thompson said.

"That's what people complained about in the Bronx. It turned out to be one size fits all except for Kosher meals," Thompson said.

The center was Thompson's third stop of the day, and he stayed for a hot lunch of kimchi, bean sprouts, spicy turnip greens, bulgogi (a beef dish made with onions), rice, seaweed soup, milk and navel oranges.

"Food is a very sensitive matter. Ethnic food is the core of our being," Kim said. "And Korean food, you can't freeze it."

Kim said one of the biggest things the Flushing center does is link Asian seniors to the rest of the city, providing document translation, tax help and other services.

"A lot of seniors can't access any social services because of the language barrier," he said.

Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at achristodoulides@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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