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Albuquerque mayor steps up for ‘seasoned citizens’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Mayor Richard Berry shows a sign that will be posted at city Senior Centers relating to the lack of condiments for meals, Friday, July. 21, 2017. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)Salt on, Mr. Wood.

Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry has intervened to ensure that the government will no longer stand between seniors and their salt and pepper, or their ketchup, mustard and other condiments, for that matter. And if they want to have a cup of coffee with the lunch they receive at senior centers and meal sites throughout the city through Albuquerque’s congregate meal program, they are now free to do so.

“It kind of comes down to the fact that these are seasoned citizens, so let’s not let government get in the way of their salt and pepper,” Berry said Friday afternoon. “… Government is not going to get in the way of them enjoying their meal.”

The mayor’s announcement comes amid complaints from seniors at the Paradise Hills Community Center meal site that city staff there were not allowing them to add salt, pepper or any condiments to their lunches unless those items were provided as part of the meal. Indeed, Conway Wood, 94, got in trouble on Thursday for salting his asparagus with a salt packet he brought from home. They had also been barred from drinking coffee with their lunches.

A top official in the city’s Department of Senior Affairs told the Journal earlier this week that the ban was due to grant requirements. Specifically, the official said, meals must meet specific nutritional standards, and when seniors add salt and condiments to the food, nutritional values are thrown off.

Berry announced the end to the clampdown during a news conference at the Barelas Senior Center.

“Sometimes we all wonder what government is thinking, and sometimes that happens even if you’re the guy from government,” Berry joked.

He said he was stirring sugar into his coffee at 5:45 a.m. when he opened the Journal and read about Mr. Wood’s salt troubles at the Paradise Hills meal site.

“As I’m reading through the article, it strikes me that, OK, we have some well-intentioned decision making going on that doesn’t pass the commonsense test,” the mayor said.

Berry directed city staff to conduct another review of the grant requirements, and they determined that the city was being too strict in its interpretation.

Under a directive he issued, the city’s senior meal sites will actually be making single-serve packets of salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard and salsa available to seniors. And he asked that seniors use those spices and condiments rather than bringing in their own.

“It has always been our intent to provide seniors with the respect and dignity and quality of services they deserve,” said Jorja Armijo-Brasher, director of the Department of Senior Affairs.

Berry praised the department and its staff for providing more than 300,000 good and nutritional meals to seniors every year.

“These folks are extraordinary,” he said. “… These people get up every day, and they do a fantastic job.