Santa Paula Times

Above, Bernie thanks some of her regulars for joining her and making her job pleasant. Seated left to right: Tenke De Jamaer, Marland Thompson, Judy Taylor. Standing left to right: Marilyn Jones, Tim Mason, Bernie Garfioi

‘Bernie’ leaving Santa Paula Senior Center
but will never lose her memories

August 05, 2015
Santa Paula News

She’s served thousands of meals and has even more memories of the times she spent with Santa Paula’s senior citizens but now Marie “Bernie” Garfio is leaving her position as the city’s senior nutrition coordinator.

But in the six years she’s served the senior visitors to the Community Center Garfio has done more than planning and preparing meals: she’s also organized special events and arranged programs that benefit the lives of the city’s large senior population.

The last day for Garfio, a city native, is August 11 and although she’s moving on to a better albeit more challenging opportunity for the City of Fillmore, she said she’ll miss her Santa Paula friends.

Garfio said her stint at the Senior Center which includes overseeing the daily lunch program as well as special events, is simple nutrition for the older set: “It’s for their health, it gives them more life and makes them more vibrant, more like they’re a part of something.”

The Senior Center regularly special luncheons, programs and events are often directly related to the lunch program.

There is a regular Bingo game and boutiques where seniors can show off their handcrafts, the latter organized by Garfio with Cece Salinas Chavez.

The lunches have been tremendously successful, drawing hundreds more than the daily 20 or so seniors that enjoy lunch at the Senior Center.

Held in the main area of the Community Center Garfio’s special luncheons have had a Hawaiian theme with the Santa Paula Fire Department barbecuing chicken and Polynesian dancers entertaining the crowd.

“We have a special Christmas lunch,” featuring Santa and singing carols, “an Easter luncheon, Spring Fling...we celebrate holidays and special events,” where the party often features the Uncles Monkeys band.

“The luau was always a big success,” the seniors dressing up in their Hawaiian finest, but Garfio said Cinco de Mayo is  also a celebration liked by the seniors who enjoy traditional dancers from area schools or the city’s own pre-school program.

“The seniors really love the kids,” who not only entertain at special events but are also prone to stop by for regular visits.

And there’s a garden shared by the seniors and children that Garfio started in the generous back patio are of the center.

“It always helped for the pre-schoolers to see how their food is grown and they would really enjoy eating it...and by having a vegetable garden,” now bursting with tomatoes and zucchini among other produce, costs for the Senior Center meals are kept down.

Meals are also subsidized by the Ventura County Area on Aging and when coupled with the bounty of the patio garden, “It can actually cost us sometimes just pennies to feed our seniors...the county knows I’m willing to step out of the box and the county works with us,” to enhance services.

Although special events get much of the attention from seniors — including those that come from outside Santa Paula to enjoy the luncheon and those visiting to get ideas for their own senior activities — the daily lunch program also has much to offer.

“We have nutritionists,” that talk to seniors about their diets, insurance advisors to help demystify coverage and “mild exercise that our seniors are encouraged to do at home...but it’s the company they have, other seniors, visitors, me, telling stories, talking about their lives,” that is also an important component of the program.

Garfio will miss her Santa Paula seniors but will have new ones to work with in her job leading the Fillmore Active Adult Center.

“It’s a great opportunity,” that Garfio is looking forward to, especially as “I like challenges,” and the beleaguered Fillmore center has some to overcome.

“I seem to work best under stressful situations so I’m looking forward to helping them grow...and we’ll both benefit.”

It will be hard to beat the support the Santa Paula Senior Center has enjoyed, “Everybody that has supported the center whether they come in and make donations or just contributes by volunteering, endless hours of people volunteering,” their time and talents to better the lives of seniors, “To make the program vibrant...six years went by too fast. Hopefully the seniors will come and visit me.”

Garfio has strong memories of the Senior Center “Like the laughter in the morning when I would arrive,” and laughter is also the basis of her memory of her first day working with the seniors.

“My first day I was being introduced to a senior” who turned to another and asked ‘Who is that?’

And the first senior said, ‘The best part of the conversation is when you can’t hear them!’ ”

All in all, Garfio said of her job, “I feel I was doing god’s work, I was just the vessel...”