Local residents in need won’t go hungry this Thanksgiving thanks to the City of Rohnert Park, the Rotary Club of Rohnert Park – Cotati and Sally Tomatoes. Together, they plan on feeding a few hundred people on Thanksgiving Day at the City of Rohnert Park Senior Center.
The tradition started back in 1988 by Reverend Sam Tharpe and was taken over three years ago by the Rotary Club when Tharpe could no longer continue on his own. Today, half of the funding for the dinner comes from the City of Rohnert Park, half from the Rotary Club of Rohnert Park – Cotati and the food is provided and prepared by Sally Tomatoes. Visitors, many of whom can’t afford to buy Thanksgiving dinner on their own, come both for the free meal as well as for the company.
“Some come because they want companionship for that day – they don’t want to be cooking and eating by themselves,” says Irene Hilsendager, a Rotarian and volunteer. “And some, like the senior citizens, are alone and their check probably doesn’t reach to the end of the month and they can’t afford to buy the food for Thanksgiving dinner. But so many of them that do come to the Senior Center are there because they want friendship.”
Last year, 235 people were served but more is expected this year, in light of families being displaced by the fires. While hard to estimate, Hilsendager believes it could be well over 300 people that will be served this year.
Hilsendager recalls visitors even coming from outside the area, including Santa Rosa and Sebastopol, to take part in the festivities last year. Some outsiders and locals alike left behind tips or donations for the Rotary to use next time or to help them carry out their other work, serving their community.
In the past, leftovers were brought to the Redwood Gospel Mission in Santa Rosa, and the same will happen this year, if leftovers are available. Some of the 38 volunteers already scheduled for the event have been coming for ten years, and many have brought children and grandchildren to teach them the art of giving.
“It’s always so much fun because you meet so many people,” says Hilsendager. “These little tykes [grandchildren of the volunteers] are learning from their grandparents to come in and serve and we try to explain to the younger ones that they [the visitors] are here because they want companionship and they need a good dinner because they probably just don’t have enough to buy a turkey.”
The dinner will be served from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the City of Rohnert Park Senior Center at 6800 Hunter Dr, Suite A, in Rohnert Park. It is free and anybody is welcome.