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The Work We Do: Charles Klein, Riverhead Senior Center

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My name is Charles Klein. I’ve been working at the Riverhead Senior Center for a little over three years now as the head senior cook.

I’ve been in the culinary industry my whole life. I started dishwashing when I was 13 years old.

I ran Brookhaven Labs cafeteria for two years as a manager, I managed school lunch programs, and then I bought a deli and owned that for 19 years.

After 19 years, I said, ‘I gotta get out.’ I was a little burnt out.

There was an opening [at the senior center] and I fit the position perfectly for them.

We come in at 7:30 in the morning and prepare a continental breakfast for the seniors.

Then, I set up 120 meals to send home. After that, I clean up, take a 10-minute break and then go back into preparing the 80 meals that I’ll be serving in the dining room.

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday’s a big heavy prep day, where we’re prepping a lot of food.

Let’s say we have chicken salad on a Wednesday, that means I have to boil it up on Monday, prepare it on Tuesday to serve it on Wednesday.

For the people at home, I make sure they’re getting the proper amount of food, quality food and it’s hot and it’s ready for them when they get it delivered to their home.

I make sure that I make a menu kind of really geared toward the people at home more than, say, the dining room.

It’s old school, it’s meatloaf. It’s old people food. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, gravy and vegetable.

They’ll come to me today and say how wonderful the meal was, and it just makes you — you know, some days you’re stressed, but at the end of the day you’re like, ‘You know what? I made 200 senior citizens happy today.’

You have to make [the seniors] feel welcome, make them feel special — try to make them feel loved here. It’s so much more than just the food.

There’s only three of us to serve 200 meals a day.

But we manage and we have no problem doing it.

They took care of us when we were young, now it’s our turn to take care of them.

“The Work We Do” is a News-Review multimedia project profiling workers around Riverhead Town.