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Springfield health fair draws hundreds of seniors

SPRINGFIELD – Attendees for the “Thrive After 55” wellness fair had already surpassed the registered number of 500 even before the four-hour event opened at 10 a.m. in Western New England University’s Rivers Memorial Auditorium Friday.

By 11 a.m. State Sen. Eric P. Lesser, sponsor, was remarking early birds included many who had not registered for lunch and telling a reporter he hoped to make the event an annual one.

“There is a tremendous unmet need for this information,” said Lesser as he looked over the packed auditorium where long lines of seniors, some with walkers, some in wheelchairs, snaked their way along tables of vendors ready to dispense material on every aspect of everyday life for many older Americans, from financial literacy to home healthcare.

Hundreds of other seniors filled tables and hastily set up additional chairs to listened to speakers on such topics as estate planning.

Perks of the day included free lunches, dozens of door prizes and freebies, like heart-shaped, palm-sized exercise balls, but attendees also stopped to read and take an array of brochures.

Springfield resident Naomi Hardiman’s AARP bag was already filled early in the event with Big Y nutritional, E-ZPass and the Mall Walk Club at Eastfield Mall materials.

“I plan to stay for the whole day,” Hardiman said.

“I want to check out all the booths they have. There are a lot of interesting products here.”

Similarly, Springfield resident Cesare Ciantra was walking around the event, hand-in-hand, with wife Virginia.

“We are always interested in bettering our health and it is nice this fair is local,” Ciantra said.

Greater Springfield Senior Services was an early popular vendor — perhaps helped by its raffle box of Big Y certificates – but as the fair got underway interest was brisk even at Forastiere Family Funeral Home Cremation, staffed by Gary Szewczyk, a funeral director for close to 40 years.

Among attendees who had picked up literature from Szewczyk was Aileen Malone, who called the event “wonderful” as she looked over material from vendor JGS Lifecare.

“I got information from Baystate Health, Columbia Gas and Forastiere’s on pre-planning,” said the Springfield resident.

“It is nice having everything in one place instead of having to go to 50 different places and finding yourself getting frustrated.”

Gabriel Nutter, on the other side of the auditorium, greeted attendees with his trauma dog Sammy, a five-year-old golden retriever. Nutter, a veteran of the Iraq war, who works for the Department of Veteran Services in Central and Western Massachusetts, was there to help veterans access services. He said many of the questions he was asked were from veterans who served in Vietnam.

Attendees also included former Republican State Senator Brian Lees who held similar fairs during his years in office and those served as a template for Lesser’s staff in organizing the June 9th event.

“These senior fairs and forums are great for the area, and I wished there were more in the state,” said Lees, standing near the entrance as attendees, some stopping to greet him, continued to stream in right before noontime.

“They give folks information. They also get people together in a fun atmosphere. In this age of social media and the internet, it is important to see people in person.”

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