Annual Thanksgiving Feasts Help Seniors Enjoy the Holiday

By Jillian Petrus & Max Freund, Reporters

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - For 33 years, Transamerica employees have served others before serving themselves on Thanksgiving.

It's the largest Thanksgiving meal in eastern Iowa. Transamerica employees say the tradition means just as much to the volunteers as it does to the senior citizens they serve.

"We have a lot of people who have been here year after year," said Cindy Nodorft with TransAmerica. "So there's actually a wait list to volunteer."

Thousands of pounds of food and hours of work go into creating this huge Thanksgiving feast. "We have hundreds of volunteers putting this on the day before to day of," explained volunteer, Matthew Vanmaanen.

From plate to presentation, it's a team effort. The volunteers start by feeding several hundred people in their dining room. "As society gets less and less social, it's a great way for people to come out and socialize and get together on a holiday that's about being with people," said Vanmaanen.

But the employees also hand deliver more than 800 meals to homes throughout the county. "It's fantastic. The people who come in here are so appreciative. They love having some place to come, something to do on this day, and they can socialize, see others interact."

Knowing the people serving your food are having fun too, makes everything more enjoyable for the guests. "I like the atmosphere and the food is delicious," said Angela Svovota. "The people are so very nice."

Svovota started coming to the event with friends and family several years ago. This year she came on her own.

"Some of my friends are either ill or out of state," she explained. "It's such a wonderful event and it's nice to get out and be around people."

Transamerica puts on this event every year with the help of Aging Services.

But the dinner at Transamerica was not the only free turkey being served in The Corridor.

At the Iowa City Senior Center, roughly 60 locals were fed a free meal, with another 70 – 100 additional meals delivered from the center to area seniors.

Meals were served by members of the Optimist Club of Coralville and were cooked by employees of Elder Services, Inc.

"For me, it is a blast, that is why I do it," said Kenneth Evans, an assistant cook for Elder Services, Inc.

The food was primarily served to residents of the Ecumenical Towers living facility, which is attached to the Iowa City Senior Center.

"If we didn't do it, the residents wouldn't have a meal," said Howard Lewis of the Optimist Club. "They are really happy, they always come over and thank us for having a meal for them."

But one tower resident — 78-year-old Janet Suchomel — idly waiting for her food was not an option.

"I feel better getting up and doing something to help the other people get their meals," she said of the 30 years she has been volunteering at the Senior Center Thanksgiving dinner. "I know I don't play a major part, but every little bit helps. I enjoy doing it."
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