MILFORD—Caroline County senior citizens said they enjoyed Thursday night’s annual Senior Citizens’ Gala so much that they want two a year.
On Thursday night, 590 seniors attended the annual free supper, complete with wrapped gifts for everyone, as well as entertainment. Bobby Hebert, an advertising sales representative for the Free Lance-Star, was the master of ceremonies for the event in the gym at Caroline High School.
This was the 14th annual gala, which features free admission for seniors and is sponsored by the Rotary Club of Caroline and supported by other businesses and individuals.
“This whole event is magnificent,” said Shirley Stevens, 75, who lives in the Dawn community of Caroline. “This is something the seniors really enjoy. It lets them know the world hasn’t forgotten them. It gives them that Christmas spirit. If they could afford it, twice a year would be nice.” She especially enjoyed the dancing.
“I love it,” Ruby L. Harris, 75, of Ruther Glen said during the gala. “I couldn’t wait to get here. This is my fourth year.”
Stanley Quash, 66, of Dawn said, “The food was excellent. That chicken was so good. The Lord willing, I’ll be back next year. This is the Lord’s season. This is a place where we can show our love for one another.”
Eighty-two-year-old Ruby Midgett of Milford lost her husband in 2007. “It’s kind of sad. We used to come to this together. But it’s still wonderful to be here tonight.”
Midgett noted that many other widows attended the gala. The widows “do live alone and they can get out and feel safe here.” She said she especially likes the food and table decorations.
“There’s nothing else like this in the county,” Quash said. “The best part is the camaraderie. Everyone seems to be happy just to be here.” The gala started with just 50 seniors 14 years ago and has grown to 590, he noted.
Florence Garnett, 71, of Shumansville found there was enough food on her plate for two meals. So she boxed up some of her supper to take home.
L.J. Moyer, chairperson of the gala, said attendance had grown from 532 last year to 590 this year. When told the seniors would like two galas annually, she smiled. The price tag for this year’s gala was $15,000.
“I was a bit apprehensive this year because some of the sponsorships had cut back,” she noted. “But the Rotarians stepped up to the plate. This is a life-changing event. It is about giving.”
Dinner was prepared by Chef Jazz Morton and the CHS Culinary Arts Class and served by the culinary students, Caroline High Interact Club, Honor Society, Beta Club and Caroline Rotarians.
“We served 620 meals in 7 minutes,” Chef Jazz said. Last year, it took a little over 8 minutes. So, Chef Jazz was proud of the students and the Rotarians for breaking the old record, especially with even more seniors to feed.
He noted that Tyler Williams, banquet manager, is in charge of the CHS cafeteria and he volunteered his time at the gala.
So how much food does it take to feed 620 people? For a start, Chef Jazz said, it took 620 six-ounce portions of chicken, 200 pounds of potatoes and 1,000 cupcakes. The seniors also had rolls and salads.
Ordinarily, Chef Jazz would buy icing for 1,000 cupcakes by the 5-gallon bucket, but none were available. So, he bought six 25-pound bags of powdered sugar and many gallons of milk and made the icing. The students iced 1,000 cupcakes on the day of the gala.
“There is no other event in the county that brings this many folks together to have a very, very good time at the holidays,” said Jeff Sili, who represents the Bowling Green District on the Caroline County Board of Supervisors.
Sili and fellow supervisors Calvin Taylor and Jeff Black provided part of the evening’s entertainment by participating in “Dancing with the Stars.” In addition, Caroline Public School Superintendent Greg Killough and Keith Marine, executive director of the YMCA, participated in the dance competition.
A senior lady in a wheelchair, Gladys Barnett, said dancing was special to her but she couldn’t get out of the wheelchair. So Marine danced and rolled her around to an appropriate disco song, “Y.M.C.A.” In doing so, Marine brought down the house with laughter and clapping from the audience. His dance partner went on to win $100 in cash. In addition, another resident from the Bowling Green Health & Rehabilitation Center, Charles Claytor, won $100 during the dance competition.
At the end of the gala, a senior lady won the grand prize of $500.
“We had to raise money from the community businesses and other sources,” Moyer said. “We bought poinsettias for each person and there were gifts for everybody. Folks from the Rotary Club bought gifts.”
A Fredericksburg landscape company, Ground Keepers of Olde Towne, split the cost of the poinsettias with the Rotary Club. Ground Keepers also provide other decorations, such as a giant inflatable Santa.
Seniors went home with gifts. Kelly Sullivan and Lois Truelove, owners of Ground Keepers, purchased many gifts, which included blankets, gloves, wallets, scarves and pocketbooks. Ground Keepers employees handed out gifts. A Santa’s workshop was set up outside the gym with piles of gifts and seniors, many in wheelchairs, were allowed to take whatever was left.
Seniors came up to Moyer as they left the gala. “They thanked me, and I said, ‘You do for me more than I could ever do for you.’ To see them and how they appreciated everything, it just means a lot to me.”
Attending the gala was Juanita Crawley, district governor for Rotary, which includes 57 clubs from Caroline to Washington, D.C. “She said she had never seen anything like this,” Moyer said.