Dozens of volunteers help deliver hundreds of meals to seniors during the 27th annual Senior Thanksgiving Dinner sponsored by the Rotary of Tracy Club Sunrise on Sunday from the Tracy Portuguese Hall.

Sunrise Rotary Club Secretary Yauna Throne said the club’s 20 members had been working for about 3 months on the senior dinner, which is one of the club’s biggest community service projects.

“Rotary is obviously a service club and we’re based on community service and that’s everything we do. That’s our mission. Our motto is giving back to the community especially locally and broadly, and for us locally our seniors are those who often get forgotten,” Throne said. “The holidays are a time that’s so special for family time so for us it was so important to do something that was meaningful for our seniors, and they love this. They start reaching out to us a month or two in advance wanting to know if we are doing it and how they can get signed up.”

The club and a host of volunteers prepared turkey dinners with all the trimmings including mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, salad, dinner roll, a slice of pumpkin pie, cookies and more.

Club members cooked 67 turkeys to prepare 500 dinners that were either delivered to the seniors homes or picked up at a drive through from the hall Sunday afternoon. The club had 360 people reserve dinners.

Rotarian Timothy Ng aid the dinner has always been popular with seniors. Before COVID it was a sit-down dinner at the hall.

“We have some senior citizens in the community that don’t have the opportunity to gather with their friends and family. This used to be an in-person thing, a sit-down dinner — it was the one way we could give them a meal and they could share it with friends that are around,” Ng said. “This is something a lot of senior citizens look forward to and so we decided we were going to make it work. This is the third year of doing it this way where we dish up everything to go.”

Even with the lifting of the COVID restrictions the club opted to continue the delivery and drive through for at least one more year.

Throne said some seniors weren’t ready to return to the sit-down meal.

“They are excited for it. They love it whether it’s in-person and the social event we hope to get back to next year or the drive-up delivery to-go process. We did reach out to seniors and it was pretty much a 50-50 split between those who wanted in-person and those who wanted drive-up, Throne said. “We have over 300 meals we’re delivering out of the 500 that were doing today so that tells you how many people are not quite ready to be out there yet, especially in a group of 400 or 500 people together in one room. There was no question whether we would do it, just the matter of what was the safest way to do it and what was the seniors most comfortable with.”

Volunteers gathered at the hall to help assemble the dinners and pack them in bags in an assembly line for the meals.

Volunteers included about 30 students from the Kimball, Tracy and Millennium high school Interact Clubs, Rotary’s youth program, along with help from the Providence Baptist Church and the Tracy Police Department and their Police Explorers.

“They see how happy it makes the seniors when they are delivering to them or they are here to pick up. They enjoy it and it’s an opportunity for them to do something that gives back. It’s a win-win for all of us because we can’t do it, we’re a small club, 20 people, and we couldn’t do 500 meals for 500 people with just the 20 of us, so it takes the community to help.”

International Paper and Central Valley Association of Realtors helped with contributions of turkeys, as did the Tracy Firefighters Association who contributed nearly half of the 67 turkeys cooked for the meals.

It takes about $6,000 for the club to put the dinner on and monetary donations from businesses and others help with purchasing side dishes and items for the to go meals and the costs have been going up each year.

“Thankfully we have a great community and every time we reach out we get a reasonable response and we’re able to usually cover our expenses for this event,” Throne said.

The club will reassess in August and see if seniors wish to return to an in-person dinner or continue as delivery and drive through.

“We would really like to get back to in person, we know that a lot of them really enjoy that, that’s their social time and time to hang out and be together and we’re really hoping for that,” Throne said. “We were hoping for that for this year but again we want to go with what’s best for the seniors and keep them safe and make sure it’s enjoyable for them and we’re not causing any health issues for them. So hopefully, fingers crossed, next year we can be back in person, but again we have to see how things go.”

• Contact the Tracy Press at tpnews@tracypress.com or 835-3030.

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