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Rockville Centre’s MLK, senior center receive Covid-19 funding

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The MLK Center’s food pantry, which feeds about 60 families each Friday, has received $10,000 in federal block grant funding, distributed by Nassau County to help communities cope with the impacts of Covid-19.
The MLK Center’s food pantry, which feeds about 60 families each Friday, has received $10,000 in federal block grant funding, distributed by Nassau County to help communities cope with the impacts of Covid-19.
Courtesy Sharon Sheppard

The coronavirus pandemic has presented new challenges to local community centers, including the Sandel Senior Center and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Center in Rockville Centre. Nassau County has responded by distributing $45,000 in federal grant funding to the centers to help them better serve residents during this time.

Of that total, $10,000 will go to the senior center’s “Sandel at Home” program, another $10,000 is for the MLK Center’s pop-up food pantry, and the remaining $25,000 will help the MLK Center renovate its bathrooms, adding automatic and hands-free faucets, dryers, toilets and soap dispensers to help prevent the spread of Covid-19, according to village spokeswoman Julie Scully.

While the Sandel Senior Center building is closed to the public, its full-time staff has been working to keep seniors socially connected while physically distancing. “It’s very important to keep people engaged while they’re isolated,” said Chris O’Leary, director of the senior center. “We’ve done everything we can to reach out and maintain connections while social distancing.”

Mainly the center does this through its television program, Sandel TV, which launched in April. The TV program incorporates normal Sandel activities in a digital format. The same fitness instructors that members used to see in person now guide them in routines on the screen. Also, rather than lectures at the center, O’Leary conducts interviews with community leaders for the show.

Also, Sandel staff members have been checking up on senior residents via telephone calls and holding Zoom lunch chats so members can see and speak with one another.

The MLK Center closed temporarily in the spring, as well; however, assistant director Sharon Sheppard, with the help of other Rockville Centre community members, have formed a pop-up food pantry at the facility each Friday. About 60 local families frequent the pantry due to need brought on by unemployment in the pandemic.

In addition, the MLK Center has opened this summer to bring a small group of children in for its day camp. The new funds will make the bathrooms safer to use when the center does eventually have a phased reopening. They will also help the center fund purchases of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face masks, gloves and cleaning supplies.

The $45,000 for the Rockville Centre facilities is part of a $2.4 million federal Community Development Block Grant-COVID (CDBG-COVID), which the county divided between 12 non-profit organizations and nine municipalites in Nassau County.

The goal for the funding is “to provide mental health and substance abuse services, youth and senior services, and health, safety and accessibility upgrades for local community centers,” according to a press release from the office of County Executive Laura Curran.

“This funding is a vital boost for programs that will help keep our most vulnerable residents healthy, safe and independent as we continue to confront Covid-19’s devastating impact for so many families,” Curran said. “Whether it’s delivering meals, ensuring safe transitions home following hospitalizations or providing other essential services to residents during this challenging time, Nassau County will continue supporting our residents and community partners throughout this crisis.”