Girl Scouts and high school students, some carrying three meals at a time, circled the Portuguese Hall as they delivered an early Thanksgiving to senior citizens gathered for the 18th annual Senior Thanksgiving dinner.
“We have been coming for years,” Earl Hove said. “It’s a great thing to see the kids volunteer.”
The couple has attended 10 of the free Thanksgiving dinners.
“This is about the only time we see some of these people, is here,” Hove said. “We have a lot of fun — get together and talk. It’s a great thing for the city.”
The Thanksgiving dinner was started by John Day to honor senior citizens in the community and has become a Tracy tradition.
The dinner was taken over six years ago by Dave and Pam Warta and is now sponsored by Tracy Sunrise Rotary as one of the club’s major community service projects.
Earlier in the day, as she chopped giblets for a pot of gravy simmering on the stove, Pam Warta said the dinner has evolved into a substantial community event. Seniors feasted on 60 turkeys donated for the dinner, which about 50 volunteers spent two days preparing.
The dinner is in its third year at the Portuguese Hall after outgrowing the Tracy Community Center.
The meal is open to any senior citizen, and Pam Warta has seen its popularity grow through the years.
“For a lot of seniors, it is about socialization. This is the only time of the year they come out and see their friends,” she said. “A lot of them would be home on Thursday (Thanksgiving) and it would be just another day. It’s an evening out with all of their friends — visiting and the camaraderie of being together.”
Dinners were served to more than 450 seniors, including 65 dinners that were driven to shut-ins by volunteers.
Harold Reich, past president of the Tracy Sunrise Rotary, said the club’s 22 members have taken on the responsibility of keeping the annual dinner continuing into the future.
Reich remembers when Day approached the club 18 years ago to help with the first dinner.
“We were there in the beginning when it got started,” Reich said. “(We) felt this particular project was an important one to continue, and we wanted to make sure it happens every year.”
He said every member of the club gets involved, whether by cooking, by serving or by supervising volunteers.
“Our club likes to do hands-on service projects. This is one where we can come in and do the work,” Reich said. “Seniors look forward to this — it has become a tradition here.”
Friends Vicky Payan and Geri Munoz were thankful, as they waited for their dinners, for the volunteers’ efforts to give them a Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings.
“It’s good to get people out and enjoy the company of others — some people are shut in,” said Munoz, who was attending the dinner for the first time. “It’s great the community does this and people don’t have to worry about paying for it.”
Payan, at her second senior Thanksgiving dinner, also enjoyed the time to catch up with old friends.
“It’s real nice seeing people I haven’t seen all year,” she said. “I talk to people I have seen in awhile.”
Pam Warta said the original goal — giving seniors who were alone at the holidays a place to be with friends — is an aim for the dinner that continues today.
“If nothing else, the community is their family,” she said. “It’s really a representation, with all the young kids and the volunteers, that this really is a community and everybody cares about each other.”
n Contact Glenn Moore at 830-4252 or firstname.lastname@example.org