Volunteers throughout San Joaquin County provided lunch, caroling, dancing and a visit with Santa to some local residents who they say are frequently overlooked during the holidays.
San Joaquin County Behavioral Health Services held the luncheon for about 500 of their clients at the Moose Lodge in Woodbridge on Tuesday. Many of the people who use the county's services look forward to the event all year, said Sue Gruber, program manager of Behavioral Health Services.
"The mentally ill are so disenfranchised in our society, this is the only holiday party for some of them," Gruber said. "When this was started 24 years ago, (the founders) felt so strongly that these folks need to get this experience that everyone else takes for granted."
Chairwoman Clara Lagorio, who works at Pine Manor Guest Home in Lodi, started the event by asking people in the community to help. The Moose Lodge cooks and serves the food every year, and companies and organizations throughout the community donate dessert or socks and gloves to hand out.
As people enjoyed their food at tables, Tyrone Stallworth played a variety of holiday music that wafted through the air. The meal is followed with dancing and singing holiday songs. Attendees even can play a variety of instruments during the caroling.
The event also allows people to connect with friends whom they may not see the rest of the year because of a lack of transportation. Behavioral Health Services arranged transportation for clients from Lodi to Escalon to come to the party.
"This has grown into something so meaningful for our clients. They look forward to it every year. ... We have a deep sense of caring for our clients in the county," Gruber said.
Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at firstname.lastname@example.org.