A holiday event at the heart of the community needs your help

Ever popular Senior Dinner, now in its 19th year, is the only Christmas some area seniors will see.  This year your help is needed. Call 813-672-7822.

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

For nearly two decades, many thousands of our community’s seniors have found the spirit of love and Christmas during the annual Senior Dinner. This year, your help is needed to make it happen. Mitch Traphagen photos.

For nearly two decades, many thousands of our community’s seniors have found the spirit of love and Christmas during the annual Senior Dinner. This year, your help is needed to make it happen. Mitch Traphagen photos.

On December 10, Barbara Jones of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Riverview substation will welcome, for the 19th year, an estimated 650 seniors from around South Hillsborough, including people from nursing homes and homeless veterans to the annual Christmas Dinner.

For many of those seniors, it will be the only real Christmas event they will attend. It will be their only chance to laugh and smile, to talk with others and share in the Christmas spirit for which the event is so well-known. For many, the senior dinner is Christmas.

Each senior will enjoy dinner and receive small gifts. It is magical.

Although she refuses to take any credit, for nearly two decades Jones has been making Christmas special for those many hundreds of seniors. And each year, with a nearly year-long planning effort, it is a challenge. She once said that, “When you have a budget of…zero, you have to get creative.”

This year, she has to get even more creative. A major sponsor was unable to help and there is a list of things still needed for the event, which will take place in just two weeks. While she still has incredible support from the community, this year, more than ever, the help of those in the community is needed.

IMG_2085-seniordinner“This has always been and will always be a community event,” Jones said. “Without the support and sponsorship of Target, Mosaic, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, along with numerous local businesses, this wouldn’t be possible. They are all in this community, too. And the sheriff’s office is part of the community.”

Each year, more and more seniors hope to attend the event. Last year 758 people turned out for the dinner, with a number of them unexpected. Jones said that no one complained about the crowding but it was crowded, nonetheless. So this year, she is hoping to hold the line on reservations being made and tickets being required, with a maximum of 650 attendees.

She estimates that 150 of those tickets will be reserved for seniors from nursing homes and for homeless veterans.

But, of course, it is difficult to turn any one away. And no homeless veteran would ever be turned away. Yes, they are in our community and should be welcomed year-round with open arms, but never more so than at Christmas. Jones sees to that.

In an open letter to the community, Jones wrote, in part:

As this year flies by, we will find ourselves rapidly approaching the 2015 Holiday Season.  This letter is not only to thank you for your continued support of the Riverview Community, but to also ask for your assistance with the 19th Hillsborough County Seniors Christmas Party.  This annual party has grown during the past 19 years and the success of this event is due to citizens and businesses within the Riverview, Ruskin, Apollo Beach, Sun City Center, Gibsonton and Brandon communities.  This year’s event is scheduled for December 10, 2015, from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m., at the International Showmen’s Club, 6915 Riverview Dr., Riverview, Fla.  The theme of this year’s event is will be “A Night at the Oscars.”

IMG_6878-seniordinnerThis event addresses the needs of seniors, which are often forgotten during the holiday season.  Many of the seniors are in low-income nursing homes, assisted living facilities and the Meals on Wheels nutrition programs. We are hoping to provide respite care for Alzheimer’s patients, which will allow caregivers a night of welcomed relief.  There are numerous seniors within our community without family members, to assist with their financial and emotional needs. It can be a very difficult time of year, to be alone.  This is often the only Christmas for many of these individuals. 

Each year we ask our local merchants and community members to donate items for this event.  This year it is even more difficult.  We lost a major sponsor of the event.  This year we are asking for the community to unite and continue the event.

Jones has been updating the list as people have donated to help. As of press time, the list of things needed was:

Decor
20 long black tablecloths
Gold star confetti
80 poinsettias for centerpieces
Popcorn bags
Gold & black Christmas decorations for tree

General
8-10 rolls of paper towels
800 white paper plates (will provide brand and where to purchase)
Large heavy-duty trash bags
1000 quart-size zip-lock bags
15 – 15 pack of large aluminum pans (Sam’s – Costco – Restaurant Depot)
10 – 30 pack of ½ size aluminum pans (Sam’s – Costco – Restaurant Depot)
40 cases of bottled water (24 pks-36 pks)
150 plastic serving drink pitchers ($1.00 at the Dollar Tree)
4 cases of Sterno (Sam’s – Costco – Restaurant Depot)
4 aluminum foil (large roll at Sam’s – Costco)
4 large coffee pots (35-60 cup size)
Gifts (socks – candles – towels – anything you might get an older person in your life)
1000 8-oz. Styrofoam cups
Coffee carafes
Items for homeless veterans backpacks (soap, manual can openers, decks of cards, socks)
Salt & pepper individual packets (Sams – Costco)
Sugar & sweetener (Equal – Sweet N Low) individual packets
Items for goodie bags (pens – pencils – magnets – notepads – calendars)

Lunch & drinks for the 40 volunteers

If you can help, call Jones at 813-672-7822. The same number is used for any senior interested in making reservations for the event.

Although during much of November the weather has said, “summer,” Christmas is fast approaching. As you sit down and give thanks this week, please considering giving a little bit to help hundreds of seniors in our community enjoy the spirit and love of Christmas. Any gift you can make will be appreciated in ways beyond what can possibly be imagined. Christmas is special. Jones and the many volunteers see just how special it is when a community comes together to make it so.

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