Every year, it takes a small army of Branford Rotary members to deliver a special gift to the town's senior citizens, the Rotary Senior Holiday Dinner.
On Dec. 6, dozens of Rotarians were joined by a group of Branford High School (BHS) Rotary InterAct students to serve a delicious, sit-down dinner to 180 guests, all members of this area's greatest generation.
"I think they look forward to it every year. I know that they do," said Rotarian Bill Van Wilgen of the meal he has helped to organize and oversee for 22 years (this year, with special assistance from Rotarian Stu Tillinghast).
"The club members are really great, the InterAct kids help out, and we appreciate the Congregational Church for letting us hold it here," added Van Wilgen.
Branford Rotary foots the bill for the extravagant annual holiday meal, which has been held in the church hall at First Congregational Church for almost all of its 22-year history.
The work starts early in the day as many Rotary members help man the pots and pans in the church hall kitchen to do the cooking for the night's meal, which is so popular that it sells out each year and brings a crowd of eager seniors.
Still more Rotarians and InterAct students arrive ahead of the seniors to set up tables and to do the night's serving and cleaning. Guests gathered at festive tables were dinners of baked ham, roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, gravy, and cranberry sauce were served on china dishes with silverware for that extra holiday dinner feel.
From cheese and crackers to coffee and cupcakes, the entire meal's sponsored by the Rotary, said immediate past president Alpha Coiro. Each senior pays just $2 for a ticket, and that money "basically covers their transportation to get here," said Coiro.
The transportation this year included two packed Branford Senior Center buses, bearing many guests who are also active members of the town's Canoe Brook Senior Center. The center's executive director, Dagmar Ridgway, was there to see many members enjoying themselves on Dec. 6.
The crowd was treated to live music from Branford-based Shore Grass Band and finished the night with a personal greeting from Santa Claus himself (aka retired Branford police chief Robert Gill). Every guest also received a boxed gift of a 2013 pocket calendar from Branford Rotary.
"I think it's wonderful," said guest Carol Brown, here to visit and share the night with her sister, Branford resident Ruth Doyle.
Active Canoe Brook senior Madelyn Kavanaugh came festively dressed in a blue wrap she crafted with the Senior Center Knitting Group and wearing a bunch of silver bangles, made up with repurposed silver charms, made during yet another senior activity at the center.
"The Senior Center in Branford is wonderful," said Kavanaugh, who shared a table with several friends from the center.
Asked what she asked from Santa as her Christmas gift, Kavanaugh said, "You always need your health, and you need to be happy."
In addition to making seniors happy (once again) this holiday season, on Saturday, Dec. 15, Branford Rotarians will be out in the community, working to raise money to help Branford residents in need during the holidays. The Branford Rotary's annual Bell Ringing campaign takes place at sites around town this Dec. 15.
"The money we raise goes to the Salvation Army, but then it is all funneled back to Branford Basic Needs," a program of the Branford Counseling Center, said Coiro. "We hope people will support the Rotary's bell ringing that will be going on Dec. 15."