Helen Kaden, 79, who is blind, looks forward every year to the one day when she gets the chance to meet and greet the people she has met over the last 32 years while living in North Bergen.
“Because I am blind, I don’t get a chance to travel often,” said Kaden, who has resided in the trailer park off Tonnelle Avenue and 48th Street in the township for the last three decades. “I don’t get many chances to see the people I used to see. In fact, I only get one day.”
That day is the annual North Bergen Senior Citizen Picnic, which was held last Wednesday at Schuetzen Park, with more than 1,000 of the township’s senior citizen residents being treated to a day of free food, fun, festivities – and more importantly, camaraderie with each other.
“I just enjoy the company more than anything else,” Kaden said. “It’s a great thing to be with these people again. There are a lot of people who don’t get out at all, but make sure they’re here every year. Even if I can’t see, I listen to everything and I just enjoy it all so very much.”
The annual Senior Citizen Picnic has been a regular event, put into the township’s budget even before current Mayor Nicholas Sacco took over the local government 15 years ago.
But Sacco has made sure that the event is part of the township’s lexicon.
“The senior picnic existed years ago, then was discontinued and we picked it up again,” said Sacco, who spent most of the afternoon greeting the seniors. “It’s really nice to be able to get the senior citizens from all over the town together for a party. They are renewing friendships. I think it helps to keep the community a close-knit one.”
The day was filled with plenty of free food and goodies for the seniors to enjoy. There were contests and games like Bingo, but the most popular events for the participants were the music and the dancing.
Just ask 85-year-old lifelong resident Wilma LaVelle, who was strutting her stuff all afternoon.
“We all did a lot of dancing,” said the spry LaVelle, who said she won a trophy for her version of the “Electric Slide” last year, but came up a little short this year. “All the women just love the dancing more than anything. I go line dancing every Tuesday. I never sit still. I need to keep the blood flowing and keep energizing my batteries.”
LaVelle, who still resides in the 80th Street home that she’s called home for nearly 50 years and has been volunteering as an aide at the Senior Citizen Nutrition Center for nearly 20 years, helping to distribute the daily lunches served there, said that the picnic is a strong community event.
“Everybody looks forward to it every year,” LaVelle said. “It’s great to meet and greet different people from all over North Bergen, from the different clubs and the different housing.”
Sacco said that the day is a relatively inexpensive way to show the seniors that they really have a place of prominence in the township.
“They are people who are deserving of our honor and our respect,” Sacco said. “It’s only fitting that we can show them at least once a year at a party like this that we truly do care about them and respect them. It’s a special event for them. There are others throughout the year, but this is certainly the highlight. Seniors always have a special place in my heart and they’ve earned it with their years of dedication.”
Sacco said that the picnic used to draw about 300 in its infant stages, but that this year’s turnout of over 1,000 was clearly the biggest.
“We now have people signing up ahead of time, so we have an idea of how many people were coming,” Sacco said. “It’s not particularly expensive and it’s cost efficient, but it keeps getting larger and larger.”
Commissioner Theresa Ferraro, herself a member of the senior community and one who has been very active for the rights of seniors in the town, applauded the day as well.
“It’s such a great volunteer effort by everyone,” Ferraro said. “We have so many people from the Housing Authority, people who work at Town Hall, police officers, people who are willing to give of their time and help out. The seniors really look forward to the day. It’s a great event.”
Added Ferraro, “Of course, seniors are always my first priority. I think it’s great that we can help them out like this. The seniors appreciate it and we love doing it.”
Ferraro pointed out the efforts of Diane Peirano-Ingvaldsen, the township’s director of housing, for her efforts in coordinating the picnic.
“We have it down to a science now,” Ferraro said.
A science that Kaden hopes will continue through the ages.
“I enjoyed everything very much and I’m sure everyone else did,” Kaden said. “There were no complaints. Everyone had free food and it was good food. There was music and dancing. I even got in a few dances. What more can you ask for?”