The Anchors: A busy place for a quiet season

Diane Wall was busy in the kitchen preparing wraps for the popular Tuesday luncheon.
Photo by Ralph Stewart

Diane Wall was busy in the kitchen preparing wraps for the popular Tuesday luncheon.

Nothing to do in the winter on-Island? Not so if you’re a senior and living in Edgartown. You could meet friends for a great lunch on the cheap. You could take a yoga class. You could learn to hook a rug. You could watch a movie, play Mah Jong, discuss books, learn computer skills, write poetry — even get your teeth cleaned for free. All this and more is available at The Anchors, the venerable home of the Edgartown Council on Aging.

Under the administration of Paul Mohair and the program savvy of Laurie Schreiber, there is no lack of activity to keep Edgartown seniors active when the Island takes its long winter nap.

One of the biggest draws is lunch. On Tuesdays, it a simple soup, sandwich, and dessert menu for $2. Friday Café, at $5, consists of an entrée, soup, and dessert. Recent entrées included lasagna, meatloaf, quiche, and eggplant parmesan. Soups are all homemade and all lunches are available “to go.” Diners are asked to sign up 24 hours in advance so cook/nutritionist Diane Wall knows how much cooking she’ll need to do. Although it’s mostly seniors who attend, it’s actually open to anyone from any town.

The dining room, a relatively recent addition to the old building, is bustling and cheerful. People chat in the queue at the kitchen pass-through while they wait for their salad and entrée or sandwich. Diners help themselves and others, ladling out piping hot soup from pots on a nearby table. Regulars and newbies settle into chairs and dig in.

“It’s a wonderful social time for people,” Ms. Schreiber says. “They really, really enjoy visiting and talking.” All are welcome.

“We try to get new faces and more seniors in,” Mr. Mohair adds. “The way we do that is to offer a free lunch the first time.”

Ms. Wall’s soups are such a favorite that she’s taken to making them in big batches to sell frozen at the lunches. At $3 for one container or $5 for two, they are snatched up quickly. The soups come in vegetarian or with meat and are enhanced by interesting vegetables like pumpkin and kale.

Outreach worker Victoria Haeselbarth, who acts as a kind of liaison to bring services to seniors who need them, enjoys bringing the soups and a bit of cheer with her on home visits. “We don’t just go to someone’s house empty-handed,” she says. “We like to bring a gift, and Diane’s soups are all low sodium.”

Some of Ms. Haeselbarth’s clients might be experiencing depression because they’re no longer ambulatory or can no longer perform in the capacity that they once did. “They might benefit from a friendly visitor once a week,” she says, “especially someone who might bring one of Diane’s soups.”

ECOA distributes surplus food brought in from the Greater Boston Food Bank once a month and leftover bread donated by Stop & Shop every Monday. While anyone can receive the bread, the surplus food is marginally restricted. The senior or family must qualify for eligibility, but it’s a very short and simple process to do so.

But food events comprise only a small part of what the ECOA provides. As Director of Senior Services, Ms. Schrieber plans a wealth of activities every month. For January alone, there are three different weekly exercise classes, three different weekly knitting/needlework classes, a lecture on hearing problems and their solutions, a health screening, a foot clinic, two movies, a men’s book group, a poetry workshop, twice weekly Mah Jong, weekly health insurance consults, and the brand-new bi-weekly current events discussion group. This doesn’t even include the dental clinic and guided walk in Woods Hole that will be conducted off-premises.

All of the activities and more are advertised in a monthly newsletter that’s available at The Anchors, in Edgartown Town Hall, at the M.V. Boys and Girls Club Thrift Shop, online at www.edgartown-ma.us, and in 55Plus, the monthly insert in the M.V. Times.

Besides coordinating programs, Ms. Schreiber performs additional outreach in the community, publishes the newsletter, oversees volunteers, and develops services. She does it all with more than a little enthusiasm. Now in her 28th year with ECOA, she knows what keeps her clients engaged.

“She’s developed these programs over the years,” Mr. Mohair says, “always coming up with new ones every month.”

For February, Ms. Schreiber already has planned “20 Ways to Beat the Winter Doldrums,” although, she says, “It will probably be more than that.” She’s in the process of building relationships with Island high school musicians to come in and entertain once a month and she’s planning a future repeat of a popular workshop: “Writing Your Own Obituary.” While it may seem a touch morbid, the first class was, Laurie recalls, “Surprisingly fun and life-affirming.”

The ECOA is supported by the state through the town’s budget, and run by a small, dedicated staff with help from approximately 57 volunteers. Since 1971, they’ve been providing programs and services to the seniors of Edgartown, both at The Anchors and through home visits.

But the center is not limited to seniors. “We try to get the word out that there’s a place for active, social, interested people of all ages,” Mr. Mohair says. “There’s a stigma about a senior center. We try to overcome that in every way we can.”

Ms. Schreiber concurs. “One of our board members really hit it on the head,” she said. “He said, ‘People are afraid to come here because they think they’re going to catch age.’ I really like that quote, because it’s so true. So many people have this concept of the senior center as people sitting around in wheelchairs drooling. It’s really the opposite of that.”

The Anchors is located at 10 Daggett Street in Edgartown. For more information, call 508-627-4368 or email ecoa@edgartown-ma.us.