Hanging out at the Bistro


2011-07-19_12-53-47_832Finding satisfaction in ministry to the elderly

By Connie Berry
Sun editor

Joe Mailloux drove a truck from coast to coast for nearly a half century. Nowadays he spends three afternoons a week at St. Bernadette’s Bistro, a senior activities center located at St. Bernadette’s Parish in Constantia.

“If you got it, a truck brought it,” Mailloux said. “What did I like best about driving a truck? What didn’t I like?”

Mailloux was born in Buffalo 73 years ago, first moving to the Syracuse area around 1960, he said. He stayed 20 years and then moved back to Buffalo. After his wife died, Mailloux relocated again in the area. They have two sons, one deceased and one living in Florida. That leaves Mailloux alone most of the time. The bistro helps him not only pass the time, but also to forge friendships that are meaningful to him.

“These are all my brothers and sisters,” Mailloux said on a recent visit to St. Bernadette’s Bistro. “I love ‘em all.”

Around 30 or 40 seniors filled the tables at the bistro on July 20. They enjoyed a warm lunch of goulash and vegetables, along with milk and juice. For some, this might be the only homemade meal they eat for the week. Given that daunting fact, not one of the bunch lacked warmth or enthusiasm as their center manager, Deirdre McCarthy, cheered them on during bingo after lunch.

Father Bob Jones is a former pastor for many of the seniors. He comes to the bistro on Tuesdays and joins them for lunch and activities. He and McCarthy’s mother-in-law, Peg, developed a senior ministry in the community, Elizabeth House, a number of years ago. The new bistro now serves those people who used to come to Elizabeth House.

McCarthy,  a native of Ireland, attends St. Bernadette’s Church along the North Shore in Oswego County. Four years ago when an announcement was made at Mass about the church being the new site of the Oswego County Opportunities (OCO) dining and activity center, McCarthy applied for the position of site manager.

“I’m so glad I was hired,” McCarthy said. “Later on after I was hired I made a plea for volunteers during Mass and put an ad in the local paper and I was delighted with the outpouring from the community. I’m so fortunate that so many great folks have made the commitment to give their time each week to our center.”

Volunteers from area churches help keep the bistro running. Janice McGraw from St. Mary’s in Cleveland, Joyce Farrell from St. Bernadette’s, and their friend Norma Williams warm up the food and serve it to the guests. They are all seniors themselves and enjoy the opportunity to serve.

Farrell moved to West Monroe about five years ago and said she didn’t know many people in the area until a friend brought her to the bistro. When she was diagnosed with cancer just before Christmas last year, Farrell said it was the prayers of her friends there that kept her going.

Farrell agreed with fellow volunteer, Norma Williams, who said, “We need this as much as they need us.”

At Our Lady of Lourdes Church in the Valley neighborhood of Syracuse, Kathleen Scutt has served as a parish visitor for seven years. She is a widow and said she knows what it’s like to be alone.

“There are so many people out there who are alone,” Scutt said. “They don’t only want Communion [brought to them], they want someone to talk to.”

Scutt, who is 63, organizes a schedule of fewer than a dozen volunteers who take turns visiting Lourdes parishioners who can no longer make it to Mass. They visit some who live in nursing homes and others who still live at home.

“We want them to know that even if they can’t get to church, Lourdes hasn’t forgotten them and they’re still a member of our parish,” Scutt said.

Many of the people Scutt visits want to hear all the latest parish news – who died and how was the funeral are frequent questions. Scutt brings them a bulletin and fills them in on the latest news from how the pastor is doing to how his dog is faring. She said they love to talk about the old days at the parish and how things “used to be.” Many of the parish visitors bring baked goods or other homemade treats. “I like to bake,” Scutt said, “so I usually bring cookies or brownies and they love it.”

Like the volunteers at St. Bernadette’s Bistro, Scully also says it is in helping others that she finds her reward.

“When you see their faces,” Scutt said, “you realize you light up their lives when you walk in the door.”

Trudy VanTassel, 67, is a parishioner of St. Mary’s in Cleveland and she said on the days when she’s feeling down, coming to St. Bernadette’s Bistro lifts her spirits.

“We have a lot of laughs here,” VanTassel said. “I’d say out of all of the activities I probably like bingo the most. I can’t really follow the way they play it nowadays but I can play it here.”

Last Tuesday’s theme at St. Bernadette’s Bistro was “Christmas in July” and the bingo prizes consisted of ceramic Santas, a shiny silver sleigh, candles and lots of red and green items. McCarthy manages to come up with a variety of interesting activities so that the seniors always have something different to do on any given visit.

The OCO website reports it has provided meals for six million seniors since the program began in 1974. Laurence Schmidt is administrator for Oswego County’s Office for the Aging and he said, according to the latest census, there are 22,097 living in the county.

St. Bernadette’s Bistro is open to anyone age 60 and older. The program runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., depending upon the scheduled activities. Call (315) 623-9803 for more information.

Our Lady of Lourdes Church would welcome more parish visitors. Call (315) 476-9576  for more information.

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