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Kiwanis Offers Thanksgiving Dinner to Nearly 300 Seniors

Annual event is volunteerism at its best.

Hail to the Chefs: Event co-chairs Distinguished Past President Mitchell Skoller, Dr. Frank Saracino, Joan Saracino and Distinguished Past President Mitchell Allen at this year's dinner.
Hail to the Chefs: Event co-chairs Distinguished Past President Mitchell Skoller, Dr. Frank Saracino, Joan Saracino and Distinguished Past President Mitchell Allen at this year's dinner.
East Meadow Kiwanis held its 33rd annual senior citizens Thanksgiving dinner Sunday, celebrating the holiday with nearly 300 attendees who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford or prepare it, are alone for the holiday or are still recovering from Superstorm Sandy.

Distinguished Past Presidents Mitchell Skoller and Mitchell Allen, along with event founders Dr. Frank Saracino and his wife, Joan, served as co-chairs, helping a slew of volunteers prepare, cook and serve a complete turkey dinner at East Meadow High School.

They were assisted in the kitchen and at the serving counters by many fellow Kiwanians, and the school's kitchen, custodial and teaching staff.

Dr. Saracino, a former 13-year East Meadow High School principal who later served as the school district's superintendent, said the idea first came about when he and his wife became aware of the changing personalities of aging relatives.

"Working with high school kids almost my entire working life I got to wondering how this would register with young kids," he said. "Do they recognize the change? Do they know what that change means?"

Dr. Saracino, who's lived in East Meadow for 55 years, thought a valuable lesson could be learned through some kind of intergenerational project. He gave a committee of students a homework assignment - come back with ideas on how they could interact with seniors. Half a dozen ideas later, the dinner was born.

"That's how it all started," he said.

Students solicited local supermarkets for food and the Saracinos shopped for the rest. "We always managed to put this on," he said, adding that the first dinner served 220 people. "The goal was to get them interacting. That goal was fulfilled and the seniors loved it so we decided to make this an annual event."

The group cooked for 750 people last year but when Superstorm Sandy prevented many from attending, Dr. Saracino found himself with 400 leftover meals. They were donated to storm-ravaged communities like Island Park, Long Beach and Lindenhurst and to Red Cross crews from Nassau and Suffolk counties stationed at SUNY Old Westbury.

Mitchell Allen began co-chairing the event in 2002. He said the dinner actually started 35 years ago by the East Meadow High School youth organization Future Business Leaders of America. When the event became so popular East Meadow Kiwanis was asked to step in to help, he said.

Though Kiwanis is a service organization "dedicated to improving the quality of life for children and families," Allen said the annual dinner is the only function that the club commits its dollars and time to senior citizens.

"It's just something we think is a good thing to do for them," he said.

Mitchell Skoller, who's also co-chaired the dinner since 2002, added it's a "wonderful gathering" that helps spread cheer to seniors during the holiday season.

Members of the seven youth service organizations the Kiwanis Club sponsors assisted at the event - Nassau Community College Circle K, East Meadow, W. Tresper Clarke and Sacred Heart High Schools Key Clubs, Woodland Middle School and Bowling Green Elementary School K-Kids Clubs, as well as East Meadow High's Future Business Leaders of America.

Students decorated the venue in a western theme and served guests. East Meadow High School's Monica Marotta, Odette Peralta, the Dancealoha Troupe and The Jazz Ensemble entertained guests.

The students participate under the leadership of K-Kids administrator/youth services chair Mickie Leamey and nine Kiwanians who serve as youth advisors.

Funds raised by the club to finance the event are supplemented by contributions of food and supplies donated by these student organizations, as well as local East Meadow businesses and organizations, including TD Bank, The Long Island Muslim Society, Bristal Assisted Living and the East Meadow Chamber of Commerce.

This year marked the last the Saracinos will co-chair the dinner. A surprise ceremony recognized and honored their more than three decades of service. Both Allen and Skoller will lead the charge next year.

Asked if he and Joan were looking forward to relaxing during next year's event, Dr. Saracino said, "They can always use experienced help in the kitchen."

For more information about EM Kiwanis, visit www.eastmeadowkiwanis.com.

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