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Free Thanksgiving, Christmas dinners are for all

November 25, 2009 - Mel Toadvine
Here we are at the holiday season and again this Thanksgiving and again on Christmas Day, the Rotary Club of Lehigh Acres will serve holiday dinners for anyone in the community who wants to sit down to a great meal. And they aren’t charging for it. Mike Buff, the project chairman for the two holiday meals, says it is Rotary’s Way of giving back to the community. Service beyond self is the way Rotarians put it. In Rotary Clubs in the United States and indeed, all over the world, Rotary Club members serve their communities in a variety of ways.

Rotary International many years ago began a project to stamp out polio and clubs all over the world and in America contributed to that cause, and while polio has not yet disappeared from the world stage of maladies, the disease has seen a dramatic decrease that would not have been believed in the 1940s when children all over the world were stricken with this disabling disease.

Many of us can remember our parents warning us to stay out of stagnant water ponds and away from other swimming holes because many believe that is how a child caught polio. The financial gifts from Rotary helped researches to come up with a vaccine and today millions of children get it every years in countries all over the world.

Today, Rotary clubs everywhere make a known presence in their community. In an area of Maryland where I lived several years ago, the Rotary clubs in the community worked together to build a refuge house for battered women and other service organizations joined the Rotarians in helping to supply it with furniture, kitchen items and much needed other things.

Before that, battered women had no place to go. Rotarians strive to live by what they call their Four Way Test and by doing so, they do tremendous things in their communities. In my club up north, each year we asked the community to nominate people who in their minds had lived the principles of the 4-Way Test. We had sign makers donate their time to make stencils of the test questions and spray paint them to sidewalks throughout the community. The test, which has been translated into more than 100 languages, asks the following questions: Of the things we think, say or do 1. Is it the TRUTH? 2. Is it FAIR to all concerned? 3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS? 4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

It’s the guiding principle of Rotarians and the way they live and most can recite those four questions when asked. Then we had a dinner for the community and named the winner of the Rotary 4-Way Test for that year.

The people of the small city came to know Rotary well. When I left, there were three Rotary Clubs, one that met in the morning, one at noon, and one in the evening. The one at lunchtime was ideal for me for all I had to do is walk next door to the hotel restaurant where Rotary was held each week. I was the program chairman for three years and enjoyed the interesting people who came to speak to Rotary.

The Lehigh Acres Rotary Club has done many great things for the community of Lehigh. They were the first group of Rotarians in Lee County to buy and hand out dictionaries to every student at a certain grade level in Lehigh Acres.

They did this for a couple of years and other Rotary Clubs in Lee County took note and today, all the Rotary Clubs throughout Lee County hand out dictionaries to students. They don’t pack up dictionaries and just send them to the schools, each Rotarian goes to a different school and takes the dictionaries with them and explains to the class how to use the dictionary.

The Lehigh Rotary Club took up the Community Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners a few years back after the agency that began it had to close because of the lack of financial support from the community, although there was a dire need and that need has quadrupled today in this worsened economy.

Lisa Goehle, who was the executive director of L.A. Social Services Center, met many people who lived alone, had little money to spend and some had few friends because they tended not to leave their homes or condos that often. She came up with the idea one afternoon while we were talking and said she wanted to hold a Thanksgiving Dinner that would be free for everyone in the community. Would I help her to promote it?

The Citizen was more than happy to promote it. And the volunteers signed up to help cook, many of the food stores in town donated turkeys as did some of the clubs and individuals. Desserts were donated by a supermarket in Lehigh.

The dinner was a huge success and she and her agency continued it until the agency ran out of money. But never did L.A. Social Services Center charge for the meal.

And the tradition continues today by the Rotary Club of Lehigh Acres. The dinner is free to anyone who lives in Lehigh. It makes no difference if you don’t have money or if you have lots of money. It’s a place for the community to come and enjoy the day.

You’ll see plenty of volunteers and you will note that many of them are from Rotary and from their families. They start cooking the day before Thanksgiving and the next day at 10:30 a.m., they began serving. They continue to serve turkey and all the trimmings right up to 2:30 p.m. when they close down and began cleaning up.

Then they do it all over again, cooking turkeys and hams, this time on Christmas Eve.

Many give up their Christmas Day to serve others in the community. And like I said before, it’s service above self that Rotarians believe in. We salute the Lehigh Acres Rotary Club and its volunteers who start off the holiday season with two free dinners, the first to be Thanksgiving and the second to be Christmas.

And if you feel as if you want to give them something, there is a jar on the counter when you walk into the Parish Hall at St. Rafael’s Church, across from Wal-Mart, where you can drop change and/or dollars.

But it’s only there because some people have said they want to give something. But as Rotarian Mike Buff says, we don’t expect people to pay for the dinner.

“They are free; all we want is for them to come out and have a great dinner and enjoy themselves,” says Buff who speaks for all 38 or so Rotary Club members.

So if you know someone who may not have a place to go for Thanksgiving and Christmas, tell them about what Rotary is doing.


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