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Northampton Senior Center’s bistro to close in wake of staff departures

  • Northampton Senior Center volunteer Susan Maguire, standing, waits on off-duty volunteers Mary Lastowski, seated left, and Francine Frenier, having lunch at Mary’s Bistro on Tuesday. A sign on the door of the eatery reads, “Due to shortages in staffing, the Bistro program will be on hold after 4/19.” GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Patrons of Mary’s Bistro at the Northampton Senior Center, enjoy lunch on Tuesday. A sign on the door of the eatery reads, “Due to shortages in staffing, the Bistro program will be on hold after 4/19.” The cafe, which reopened in October under a new program, is named after a longtime volunteer, the late Mary Netto. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jim Spencer talks to the Gazette at Mary's Bistro, located in the Northampton Senior Center, on Tuesday, April 17, 2018. A sign on the door of the eatery reads, "Due to shortages in staffing, the Bistro program will be on hold after 4/19." —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • A sign on the door of Mary's Bistro, located in the Northampton Senior Center, reads, "Due to shortages in staffing, the Bistro program will be on hold after 4/19." Photo taken Tuesday, April 17, 2018. The eatery is named after the late long-time volunteer Mary Netto. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton Senior Center volunteer Mary Lastowski, seated right, gets a hug from volunteer Susan Maguire during lunch at Mary's Bistro on Tuesday, April 17, 2018. Joining them are fellow volunteers Marian Herrick, to their right, and Francine Frenier, in foreground. A sign on the door of the eatery reads, "Due to shortages in staffing, the Bistro program will be on hold after 4/19." —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Jim Spencer talks to the Gazette at Mary's Bistro, located in the Northampton Senior Center, on Tuesday, April 17, 2018. A sign on the door of the eatery reads, "Due to shortages in staffing, the Bistro program will be on hold after 4/19." —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Northampton Senior Center volunteer Susan Maguire, standing, waits on off-duty volunteers, clockwise from foreground left, Francine Frenier, Marian Herrick and Mary Lastowski, all having lunch at Mary's Bistro on Tuesday, April 17, 2018. A sign on the door of the eatery reads, "Due to shortages in staffing, the Bistro program will be on hold after 4/19." —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Ruthie Parsons talks to the Gazette at Mary's Bistro, located in the Northampton Senior Center, on Tuesday, April 17, 2018. A sign on the door of the eatery reads, "Due to shortages in staffing, the Bistro program will be on hold after 4/19." —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Heather Cahillane, left, Northampton Senior Center assistant director and volunteer coordinator for senior services, talks with volunteer Mary Lastowski while she has lunch at Mary's Bistro on Tuesday, April 17, 2018. A sign on the door of the eatery, located inside the senior center, reads, "Due to shortages in staffing, the Bistro program will be on hold after 4/19." —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Menu from Mary's Bistro, located in the Northampton Senior Center, on Tuesday, April 17, 2018. A sign on the door of the eatery reads, "Due to shortages in staffing, the Bistro program will be on hold after 4/19." —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING



@BeraDunau
Wednesday, April 18, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — Mary’s Bistro has been a popular destination at the Northampton Senior Center, since reopening last October. However, unless circumstances change, the bistro’s last day of operation will be on Thursday.

“It’s not realistic at this time to continue,” said Heather Cahillane, assistant director of Northampton Senior Services.

It’s all part of the fallout from Cahillane’s decision to leave her post after Mayor David Narkewicz declined to promote her to the director’s position, for which she had applied for the second time. Instead, Narkewicz chose to appoint Marie Westburg, the senior services director for Williamsburg, whose appointment must now be approved or rejected by the City Council.

Cahillane is currently serving as the interim director at senior services, and her last day is April 25.

The bistro’s October reopening, with food prepared by inmates from the Hampshire House of Corrections, was the brainchild of Cahillane, who also works intimately with it. However, because she is the only person on staff who has the requisite food safety certification, Cahillane said the program will be unable to continue once she leaves.

She said another reason for the impending closure is that Victoria Hunt, senior services media and program coordinator, is also leaving, and that volunteers are quitting as well. She said the senior center’s coffee shop may also not be continuing.

Jail officials confirmed that the program is set to be suspended.

“It’s on hold for now,” said Melinda Cady, assistant deputy superintendent at the Hampshire House of Corrections, who oversees treatment and re-entry programs for the Hampshire County Sheriff’s office.

Although Cahillane’s father, Patrick Cahillane, is the sherriff, Cady is responsible for overseeing the program on the corrections end. She said that the decision to terminate the program came from the Senior Center.

In a statement released to the Gazette by email, Lyn Simmons, the mayor’s chief of staff, expressed disappointment in the bistro’s impending closing, while expressing faith that it would be reopened.

“I am confident that the incoming new director will be able to quickly resume this important collaboration between the city and Hampshire County jail when she begins work on April 30,” she said in the statement.

Shared responsibility

Merridith O’Leary, head of the city’s public health department, said state law requires that a minimum of one worker have a food safety certification. However, she said that a program may have a stricter standard, which Cahillane said is the case for the bistro.

“It needs to be a shared responsibility,” Cahillane said. She said the program also requires a staff liaison who is in charge of it.

Cady said the sheriff’s office would certainly be open to reopening the program, provided safety standards can be maintained.

The bistro, named in honor of the late Mary Netto, a longtime senior center volunteer, is open from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday.

“Hugely successful,” said Cahillane, in characterizing the bistro’s operations.

She said it serves 30-45 people a day, is in the black and that in addition to seniors, employees of the Daily Hampshire Gazette and New England Treatment Access also eat there. She also noted that the bistro has fostered a good social atmosphere.

“People have grown friendships,” she said.

Cahillane said she is very involved with the bistro, organizing the volunteers, putting together the menu, going shopping, working with the inmates, and running the Facebook page.

“Basically everything,” she said.

Susan Maguire, one of the people who quit the Council on Aging over Cahillane being passed over, said that seniors have been “in tears” over the bistro potentially ending.

“They rely on it,” said Maguire. “They’re in mourning.”

She also said that the inmates and corrections officers are “very sad” about the program going away.

‘Falling apart’

“Very sorry to hear that it’s closing,” said Phyllis Taylor, a senior, who ate at the bistro’s Tuesday service.

Ruth Parsons, another senior patron, praised the bistro, citing both the camaraderie and its affordability. She expressed a fear that the warmth of the center would go away once Cahillane leaves.

“A lot of things are falling apart,” said Jim Spencer, who resigned from the Council on Aging on April 9 over Cahillane being passed over.

He also expressed a fear that the mayor and Westburg are looking to turn the Senior Center into a community center.

“We don’t want any children running around here,” he said.

Cahillane not being hired has sparked a revolt from a number of people in the community involved with senior services, including the resignations of five people from the Council on Aging, the body that advises Northampton Senior Services.

Cahillane’s supporters are now urging the City Council to vote down Westburg’s nomination, so that Cahillane’s candidacy can be considered again, and have been calling city councilors and the mayor’s office to make their feelings known.

“It’s amazing to me to see how much support I have,” Cahillane said.

She also said she would be open to having a conversation about taking the director position, should Westburg’s candidacy be rejected.

In the meantime, Cahillane said she’s trying to “lay low” during her last days as assistant director, and she said that her focus is to wrap things up so that she doesn’t leave a mess for whoever comes in next.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.