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Volunteers serve Thanksgiving feast to seniors

Posted: November 25, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: November 25, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Pianist Maurice Tucci entertains with holiday favorites.

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Celebrating Thanksgiving Day at the age of 102, Joe Mageno has a lot for which he is thankful.

On Thursday, he added the annual Thanksgiving Day dinner at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center to his list.

Mageno, enjoying his meal of turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes, was surrounded not only by his family and friends but also by more than 200 other Thanksgiving Day guests like himself.

A relative sitting beside him shouted a question in his good ear: What was the Thanksgiving he remember the most?
Mageno reached back close to 100 years ago to a time when, he said, there was nothing in Santa Clarita.

“It was 1914. My mother was going to kill a chicken but I went out and killed a turkey,” he said. “That was in Palo Verde.”

How did he do that if he was 5 or 6 years old?

“I used a slingshot,” he said, pulling one fist slowly back from the other as he told his story.

As he spoke, all around him similar stories were being played out and told to scores of receptive young listeners at the Market Street community center.

Table talk
The annual meal is, undeniably, loved and appreciated by seniors every year, according to organizers. The interaction the seniors share with young volunteers that is almost as cherished as the meal.

Ashley Pinsker and her friend Gigi Sarnicola, both 17-year-old Valencia High School students, said learning about events, such as the Great Depression, in school was one thing, but hearing about them from people who lived them is quite another.

And, although they receive school credits for their community work, Thanksgiving Day at the Senior Center was a repeat performance for many who helped out last year.

“Hearing about what they went through impressed me the most,” Pinsker said.

The life stories told by seniors remains the most compelling aspect of their Thanksgiving Day volunteer efforts, she and her friends said.

“We met a nice lady named Lee, and she was telling us how she used to dance and how she wishes she could still dance, but she can’t,” Sarnicola said.

“It makes you feel good about yourself,” Pinsker said. “And, it makes you appreciate things.”

Valencia student Billy Shipman said of the same conversation: “Lee was telling us how to treat women and little things like that will stick with you.”

Delivered meals
This year’s Thanksgiving Day dinner was delivered, for the first time, to seniors unable to leave their homes.

“Right now, we’re delivering 100 meals. That’s 100 people, and that’s amazing,” said Rachelle Dardeau, executive director at the Senior Center,  “This is going to be their Thanksgiving today.”

By the end of the day, more than 500 seniors would have received Thanksgiving Day dinners, organizer Allan Cameron said.

Pointing around the packed hall, he added: “As you can see, we’re bridging every gap. The generational gap — bridged.
Racial gap — bridged. Gender gap — bridged. We’re duplicating and exceeding what happened last year here.”

As seated seniors enjoyed the food served to them on trays, teen volunteers from local high schools and Girl Scouts half their size scooted in and out of tables and around elbows helping out.

“I was talking to this one guy, Paul, who moved here from Minnesota a long time ago. He was cool,” said Kimmie Jones, a volunteer from Saugus High School.

Full plate
And, while seniors had a lot on their plates — the plates were full thanks to a number of contributors singled out by organizer Flo Lawrence.

First to be acknowledged — to enthusiastic applause — was chef Michael Reddick.

The meals he prepared included turkey from Tony and Lucy Kerum of Tony’s Food Service in Chatsworth and from Joe Messina, garlic mashed potatoes from the Salt Creek Grille, vegetables from the Tournament Players Club of Valencia, 500 rolls from Chi Chi’s Pizza and 14 gallons of ice cream from Six Flags Magic Mountain.

Synergy is the word Lawrence used to describe the genuine interaction between seniors and “high school kids.”

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