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A Christmas dinner by angels

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image Barbara Keplinger reacts as people thank her for her years of organizing the annual dinner. Photo Michelle Traphagen

On Thursday, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, businesses, and individual residents came together to make Christmas brighter for approximately 500 seniors and veterans, many of whom would otherwise have been alone for the holidays.

By Mitch Traphagen

On Thursday, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, businesses, and individual residents came together to make Christmas brighter for approximately 500 seniors and veterans, many of whom would otherwise have been alone for the holidays. It was the 16th annual Riverview Senior Dinner, organized by HCSO Community Service Officer Barbara Keplinger. To those 500 people, and so many more throughout the community, Keplinger is a Christmas angel. The fact of the matter is she is more than that. Keplinger is a year-around angel to many elderly people and those in need.

“There were all segments of the community here,” Keplinger said of the dinner. “Retirees, financially needy, caregivers, nursing home residents, seniors that are alone during the holidays, people with no family nearby.”

According to Keplinger, HCSO volunteers, Mosiac, Target Stores, Chik Filet, culinary students from both Riverview and East Bay high schools, the American Legion, the International Showmens Association, American Medical Response and dozens of individuals and area businesses, made the event possible. Keplinger also said that the Voices of Bud, singer-comedian-impressionist Bud Conover, who provided the entertainment, made the evening special. Conover said that this is his favorite event of the year.

“I had one widow come up to me, she was crying,” Keplinger related. “It was the first time she had come to the dinner. She said she didn’t get out of the house much and wasn’t sure if she even wanted to come. She said that I could not know how much this meant to her and she thanked me several times over. That’s why we do this, because it affects lives.”

The seniors enjoyed a meal of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, coleslaw and cookies, along with gifts and the most important gift of all: companionship and togetherness at one of the most important holidays. The dinner was held at the International Showmen’s Association complex in Gibsonton.

Barbara Keplinger seeks no attention for herself (in fact she shuns it) and certainly it is the many businesses and volunteers who make the event possible. But sometimes it takes a single angel to inspire others. And sometimes, particularly at Christmas, it is good to recognize them all.

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