Seniors line up at the 2012 Senior Christmas Dinner. Interested volunteers or donors can contact the coordinator at the bottom of the story. (Photo provided).

(File photo) Seniors gather in line at a recent Senior Citizen’s Christmas Dinner. This year’s event will be Christmas day at noon at Caro Knights of Columbus Hall, 903 Ryan Road. Volunteers will also deliver meals to seniors not able to get the K of C Hall. Last year over 500 dinners were served.

Tuscola County Senior Christmas Dinner promises food, smiles

Seniors line up at the 2012 Senior Christmas Dinner. Interested volunteers or donors can contact the coordinator at the bottom of the story. (Photo provided).
Seniors line up at the 2012 Senior Christmas Dinner. Interested volunteers or donors can contact the coordinator at the bottom of the story. (Photo provided).

A free Christmas gift to all Tuscola County seniors comes with turkey, bingo and smiles.
On Christmas Day, the 29th annual Senior Christmas Dinner will be held from noon to 4 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 903 Ryan Road, Caro.
The free turkey dinner has fed more than 300 seniors each year and delivered between 150 to 180 dinners to others considered to be “shut-in.” Mike Urban, one of the event coordinators, said for years he has remained behind the scenes not taking any of the credit for the community event.
The reason, he said, is that the dinner is not just put on by him, but through donations from local businesses and residents.
“There are many big donors — there’s literally hundreds of donors,” said Urban. “Individuals will just bring in gifts for us to wrap for the seniors. With our cash donations, we go out and buy small gifts so they have a gift to open on Christmas Day.”
Sponsors over the years have included Michigan Sugar Co., which provides nearly 400 bags of sugar for the event — enough for each attendee to take one home.
Other donors include Findlay’s Organics of Caro, Lizzy’s Diner of Caro, McDonald’s of Caro and the Caro Knights of Columbus that allows use of the facility for the event free of charge.
This dinner began 29 years ago through the Caro Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Urban said he does not remember the exact reason why they started but certain it had something to do with giving seniors a place to go on Christmas Day.
Urban said he’s been involved for the last 27.
“When they started passing on, I finally ended up with the task of keeping it going and with many volunteers, we kept it going all these years,” added Urban. “It gives a lot of people the opportunity to give back the true meaning of Christmas on Christmas Day.”
Giving back the “meaning of Christmas” takes manpower on both Christmas Eve and Dec. 25. Community volunteers meet on Dec. 24 to begin preparing food, decorating the hall and tables, and wrapping gifts.
This year, dinner will include turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, ham, sweet potatoes, salad, deviled eggs and green bean casserole. Leftovers will go home with seniors along with their gifts. Christmas Day volunteers serve guests and walk them from their cars and back, Urban said.
Traci Raymond, a co-coordinator and volunteer, said on Christmas Day volunteers wait on guests hand and foot.
“The only time they get up is to get their plate, get their presents and use the bathroom,” said Raymond. “We make sure they have drinks. And the ones that can’t walk well, we get their dinners for them. It’s giving back to them for all they’ve done for us.”
Raymond has been volunteering for the past 25 years. Volunteering began when she and her late husband, Dave, made an effort to teach their children about giving.
“We started by helping Mike gift wrap presents on Christmas Eve,” said Raymond. “Now my children bring their children — they’re doing the same thing we did. They’re learning about giving and it just touches my heart when they do that.”
Part of Raymond’s duties of coordinator is purchasing Christmas gifts with the cash donations — about 350 of them, she said.
“We never know how much money we’re going to have or what’s going to happen, but they just show up,” Raymond added.
For many attendees, it may be the only place to go on Christmas Day.
That can lead to emotional encounters for Urban, he said.
He recalled an elderly woman one year, who sat and looked down at her unopened gift.
“I asked her if she was gonna open it, and she said she was going to save it because it would probably be the only gift she got that year.
“Others say the only time they get to see their old friends is at this dinner,” Urban said. “Their kids are all (gone) or don’t have any family left, and some of them even say, ‘we were invited to our kids’ house but this is where we come every year because we get to see our old friends and we just enjoy this.’ Some of them blow off their family just to come to this.”
There seems no end to the memories.
Urban said he recalls a couple from his youth, now deceased, who danced each year to live music, encouraging other seniors to dance.
With an event made for seniors, Urban said the group has never turned anyone away. He recalls one year a Vietnamese family ended up in the county but with no restaurants available, members of the Caro Police Department brought the family to dinner.
Urban said it hasn’t been difficult to get volunteers to come out on Christmas Day.
Sometimes there are even too many, he said, adding the help always tends to work itself out.
Last year, there were between 30 to 50 volunteers between the two days.
Seniors that arrive before noon will wait for dinner time and after eating they will receive a gift, followed by bingo.
Urban said at times some women have tried to tip volunteers but Urban said he and others who help that day don’t receive them.
“It’s always so cute,” said Urban. “But it’s their day.”
Tuscola County Sheriff Leland Teschendorf has volunteered with his family for 10 years. Teschendorf said he knew Urban a long time and said he was always looking for volunteers to deliver meals on Christmas Day. Since then, he and his wife, Christine, and daughter Kristen have been volunteering.
On his trips out to deliver food, he said the seniors who can’t leave their homes would show an appreciation someone came to bring food.
“People are very happy and look forward to getting them,” said Teschendorf. “Depending on the year, we deliver between 15-50 dinners.”
Urban said for shut-in seniors, the dinner basically takes over the Tuscola County Human Development Commission’s home meal delivery program.
Teschendorf’s route usually focuses on Deford, Cass City and Gagetown but two years ago Michigan suffered from a major ice storm preventing some volunteers from helping.
Many seniors went without power in their homes for days, Teschendorf said, and the ice had knocked down all the power lines for days.
“It’s a very heartwarming event when you see a bunch of seniors who may not have any family or friends that go and have a Christmas meal and sit and have some interactions with people their age,” said Raymond. “People move away and have their own lives and they’re busy or weather’s not permitting. Some do it with their family the night before or day after to have Christmas with their family to go to the dinner.”
And when the event ends, Urban said the reward he gets out of it isn’t a gift or a meal but something he can only get from the seniors.
“When it’s over and when they’re all going home with their bags of goodies, they give hugs, kisses and handshakes,” he said. “It makes it all worth it.”
To make a successful event, Urban said it requires about $4,000 for gifts and food. Urban didn’t want to comment on the event’s current budget, but estimated he probably has half of the desired amount.
Donations may be sent to Krisnik Investments L.L.C., 475 N. State St. Ste. B, Caro, Michigan, 48723 or call the office at 989-673-8635.
Debanina Seaton is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at debanina@tcadvertiser.com

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