ROSEBORO — AJ Pule and others senior citizens from the town’s nutrition site were surprised to find out that they had no place to fellowship. It’s something he’s been doing for seven years.
The community building located on Northeast Railroad Street was recently shut down because of maintenance issues. It is unknown when it will reopen, but some town officials have said it could take months.
For Pule, that’s too long.
“You’re not fooling around with objects, you’re messing with human lives,” Pule said.
The issue was broached only briefly during a brisk meeting of the Roseboro Board of Commissioners Tuesday night.
“We have recently found out that there is termite damage,” Mayor Alice Butler said at the close of the meeting, noting the floor has “given way” slightly. “We know that there is damage there, so the building cannot be used at this time.”
She asked that commissioners Ray Clark Fisher and Cary Holland inquire about the repairs, which also include roofing issues, and bring back a report and estimates for the work to the board at a later date. The board then quickly adjourned.
Gilbert Owens, site manager, said close to 60 people are served in the program. More than 1,000 meals are delivered each month. Close to 30 people visit the center during the week for the program with meals provided by the Sampson County Department of Aging. Owens said the senior group used the building for four decades.
“The issue here is about people,” Owens said. “These senior citizens rely on this every day. This extends their life. They have somewhere to go and something to do. Not the mention that they get meals. There are people who 100 percent dependable on the meals that we provide.”
He was notified by the town Monday afternoon about denied access to the community building. One of the reasons mentioned was because of termites and other safety issues related to the floor. Owens was told it would be 30 days before they even look at it.
“That’s ridiculous,” he said with disappointment.
Owens said everyone is upset, because of the uncertainty of when the building will be fixed. Owens was told it may take up to four months to fix it.
“The town has been really slow on reacting to the needs of the senior citizens in this community as it relates to this center,” Owens said about the frustrations. “We’ve always had water damage. When it rains it leaks in here. There’s always been damage to the roof. The town would come and they would just patch it up and it’ll leak again.”
The seniors were also upset that street developments were made for a house next door and on other areas, but their needs were not addressed at the center.
After it was closed, Owens made several calls and had to scramble to find another location. Roseboro United Methodist Church allowed them to use a room in their building on Tuesday. Lee Coleman, a church trustee, contacted Pastor Bobby Herring about allowing them to temporarily use the church.
“To be able to host them, it’s a blessing for our church,” Herring said about the church opening up their hearts and doors to them. “It gives us an opportunity to serve our community. That’s what we’re here for — to be a service to our community.”
“We didn’t even ask,” Owens said. “They did that on their own.”
Next week, Sampson County Schools is allowing the group to use a classroom at the Charles E. Perry building.
Owens appreciated the help of Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy and Board President Telfair Simpson. Details are being worked out.
“We’re so grateful for the Roseboro United Methodist Church and (Sampson County Schools),” Owens said.
To prepare meals, Denise Thompson and Julia Wainright had to use the church’s kitchen, instead of the one they’re accustomed to at the nutrition site.
“They wait so bad to the point where we had to pushed out. Seniors are people too,” Thompson said. “It’s just sad that’s is going to take so long to get resolved. Roseboro is made up (of a lot seniors) it’s sad that they put them on the backburner.”
Participant Jennifer Robinson said it’s hard for seniors to make a major shift in their lives, especially when they rely on the center to receive food. She also brought up how the seniors get get up every day and look forward to having companionship with others, while enjoying a warm meal.
“This is not just a hangout,” Robinson said. “This is a necessity for some people.”
She also wondered if the town conducts regular inspections for a building, used five days of the week.
“This should not have even happened,” Robinson said, who echoed her concerns at Tuesday night’s Roseboro Board of Commissioners meeting.
Robinson said the seniors, as well as some of the youth who attend programs, would be left out in the cold. Her mother is a regular participant in the activities offered at the Community Building.
“I am concerned about what is going to happen to our senior citizens,” she said to town board members.
Carolyn Simpson attended for eight years and was disappointed about not receiving an advanced notice. She enjoys the faith-based opportunities and seen people become blessed.
“What stands out to me is the worship and the Bible study that we have everyday,” Simpson said. “I’ve seen one man get saved.”
The North Carolina Department of Corrections sends volunteers who need community service. During the visit, the site members minister, motivate and encourage them. Some of them go on to get jobs.
“We see people lives change as a result of dealing with these ladies,” Owens said. “That’s another part that no one really knows about.”
The work with volunteers sent by the corrections department is one of the reasons believes the site is important to the community. Paula Persaud feels the same way.
“We’re seniors, we don’t have a whole lot going on in Roseboro, Salemburg or surrounding areas,” Persaud said. “This is something that folks try their best to get to. They take buses, they walk, they get rides. A very small little building — they can’t let us have that?
“There’s probably some neighboring folks who don’t agree, but we’re not hurting anyone. And the center does a lot for the people, not just the ones who go there.”
Along with Robinson’s concerns during the public comment section at the top of Tuesday’s town meeting, resident Barbara Phillips, who lives next door to the facility, shared her own. She asked that the town stop renting the facility. She cited gunshots fired during an incident earlier this month, and noted that she sleeps about 20 feet away from the building.
“It’s enough. I’ve had it,” said Phillips. “You have no control over the people who rent that building and nobody cares what happens. I’m tired of it. I’ve had to deal with gunshots fired right outside my bedroom. Does anybody really care? Let’s see how much you care.”
She said she has no issue with the senior population that shows up during the day. It is the renters who she said cause disruptions at night.
“Put the seniors there, I don’t care,” she stated, “but I’m tired of the gunshots.”
Neither Robinson’s nor Phillips’ concerns were addressed directly at Tuesday’s meeting. No estimated timeline for the repairs and reopening the facility was given.