Planning for Riverview’s 23rd annual holiday dinner for seniors has begun
By YVETTE C. HAMMETT
Planning is now under way for Riverview’s 23rd annual holiday dinner for seniors, but more than 100 volunteers are needed to make it happen.
Now is also the time for businesses and individuals to step forward with donated food for shut-ins and gift bags for seniors who will attend the event. There is also a pet food drive underway.
The dinner is by invitation-only for people who would otherwise be entirely alone for the holidays, no matter their socio-economic status. Names of those in need come from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, senior centers across the county and other agencies that work with seniors.
A group of core volunteers is meeting weekly at Summerfield Crossings Golf Club to organize committees for the dinner, scheduled for 4 p.m. Dec. 13 at The Showman’s Club in Gibsonton.
“We need volunteers to help us to coordinate the event, and then we need volunteers the day of the event,” said businesswoman Theresa Turner, who is chairing the dinner. “The problem with people who volunteer is not showing up,” she said. Those who commit to work the event need to be prepared to follow up on that commitment, she said. Last year a group of 100 volunteers backed out two weeks before the dinner.
“The more bodies we have the better it is,” she said. “We want to break down into committees.
“If you are going to volunteer and you want to be on a committee, it is a lot of work and we don’t expect you to do it alone, but we expect you to be there and help,” said Barbara Jones, founder of the dinner.
They’ll need people to set up, make coffee, decorate, get food donated, serve tables, converse with the seniors and cleanup afterward.
Heather Michael, president of the Riverview Women’s Club, who is chairing the entertainment committee for the dinner, said she hopes her members will get involved making gift bags for attendees and also volunteering the day of the event. But her group won’t be nearly enough.
No one is expected to stay all day, Turner said. Some can volunteer for setup, others for the party itself, and another group for cleanup. And there is plenty to do ahead of time.
Those who volunteer for the food committee will be drumming up donations from local restaurants for pizzas, chicken wings and other “tailgate foods,” since this year’s theme is “All Star Christmas.”
Attendees can wear sports gear for their favorite sport, and the decorations at The Showman’s Club will reflect the theme.
Those working on a gift committee will be asked to call on local businesses for donations like pens, backpacks, crossword puzzles, flashlights, keychains, even old jewelry. Residents can donate small gifts like socks, slippers, pajamas or kitchen towels.
Two area memory care centers will bring patients with Alzheimer’s disease, and there will be a table of homeless veterans. They’ll get fed, get gifts and if they want seconds once everyone is served, they’ll get seconds, Turner said. “We’ll give ’til there is no more to give.”
Jones will box up “gift baskets” of food for the lonely who cannot make it to the dinner.
This year, Riverview Our Town Inc., the nonprofit set up to support the dinner, is planning several fundraisers, including a bingo night at Summerfield Crossings. Also, Michael is planning a Halloween party at the golf club with half of the entry fee going to the dinner fund.
Turner explained that the group wants to have funds it can use throughout the year to help shut-ins with emergency needs.
“Everything is provided by the community,” Turner said. “We want to build on fundraising year-round, so we have a pot. We ask a lot of people to give a little.”
It’s all about giving them someone to spend the holidays with, Michael said. “We had one man last year who sat alone in the room the whole time. I went back to see him four times.” It is about making everyone feel welcome and having someone, even for a couple of hours, she said.
The gung-ho can make it a day. Those who work can pick a shift, Turner said.
The goal this year is to serve 550 seniors.
Tax-deductible donations can be made through PayPal on the Riverview Our Town Facebook page. Those who volunteer will be added to a special Facebook page just for the event.