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It's the reason for the season

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Rotary International accepts tax-deductible donations any time on behalf of the Rotary’s many public service projects. In West Sac, as one Community Service project wraps up, another is being planned, and deductible donations are warmly welcomed by the West Sacramento Rotary Foundation for its scholarship program.

During warm weather months, West Sacramento's Mighty Rotary Club is busily doing such things as constructing raised bed gardens for residents of low income senior housing. Each year as the holiday season approaches, the Rotarians team up with students at River City High School for Rotary's annual Holiday Senior Gift Project.

The Interact Club, initiated at the high school six years ago by West Sac Rotarian Charyl Silva, is supported by both West Sacramento Mighty Rotary (Silva's club) and Centennial Rotary of West Sacramento. The students -- the club has 80 members -- are actively engaged in community service year 'round. Members as young as 14 eagerly sign up to help with Rotary's Senior Gift project.

Last year and this, Interact club member Alan Tern, 17, signed up as project chair, responsible for organizing other club members into teams and assigning shifts. The teens each work two-hour shifts (or more) in mid-December, explaining the project to Raley's shoppers: Each willing shopper takes a paper ornament that has a list of a lonely senior's gift requests. The lists are jotted on the back of the ornament by volunteer Rotarians from forms provided to the seniors through West Sac seniors programs. The seniors list their gift requests. The shopper pays for the items then returns the bag to Rotary/Interact tables set up at Raley's, making sure to return the ornament that also has the recipient's name and a location code for where they live.

The Interact Club members and Rotarians wrap and individually label each gift. Alan, a senior at River City, works both days -- 12 hours total. Once he's signed up club members and assigned them their two-hour shifts, he can work just a single day, two-hour shift himself, but he said he believes the project chair "should sign up for the full day to make sure everything's right." He graduates this year and hopes to attend UC Davis in the fall. Among other things, he plans to study genetics and microbiology and become a Biology Engineer. And cure cancer? He smiled nodded and said, "Maybe." To make sure next year's Senior Gift Project goes off without a hitch, at this year's event, Alan arranged to have a 'shadow' who will already know the ropes when next year's project rolls around.

Although this 17-year-old is uncommonly competent and responsible, the students are nonetheless joined at Raley's by Rotary Club's adults. The Rotarians, too, sign up for the shifts -- often working two or more if, say, the gift wrapping portion of the project needs extra hands. For more than 10 years, Silva, as chair of Senior Gift, organized the project. This year she advised new co-chairs Jeremiah Smith, a bank executive, and Christian Montgomery, a tax attorney. The two, like Alan, worked all day both days, coming early to set up, soliciting shoppers, shopping for missing gifts, wrapping presents -- then staying late to make sure gifts in bags matched the filled out forms. After that, they put away tables, chairs, wrapping paper and supplies with the help of last-shift Interact kids ... and Alan.

Silva, a West Sacramento chiropractor, said that each year, she's determined that "every (senior) who signs up gets a gift." The wants are small. A pair of socks. Sugar-free candy. A magazine. Silva said when she delivered gifts with her daughter, Caitlin, the seniors thanked the two profusely for the generosity of Raley's shoppers. "I could tell they had very little," Silva said. "It was very touching." This year, 125 grateful recipients turned in forms -- some of them in their 90s, many of them alone.

For Raley's shoppers who are short on time, the Rotarians are grateful for cash donations. One girl, who said she'd just lost her job, still gave a dollar. If some ornaments (lists) haven't been picked up by Raley's shoppers or the bags are short an item (shoppers are encouraged to buy what they can, even if they don't have time to shop for everything on the list), the Rotarians take the cash donations and finish up the wish lists. Rotary Club president Mike Campbell sometimes added a surprise or two to bags in which the list only asked for cookies.

Once all the gifts are bought and wrapped, Interact students deliver to some recipients while other Interact members sing carols. Rotarians who volunteer as drivers for Meals on Wheels (also sponsored by West Sac Rotary) deliver gifts to the community's elderly and disabled who receive home-delivered meals from the West Sac Elderly Nutrition program.

Rotary International accepts tax deductible donations any time on behalf of Rotary's many public service projects. In West Sacramento, as one Community Service project wraps up, another is being planned. Deductible donations on behalf of the West Sacramento Rotary Foundation's scholarships program are warmly welcomed. The Rotarians and Interact Club members are always interested in learning about possible community service projects, and Rotary is open to potential members who are eager to volunteer.

To learn more, visit West Sacramento Mighty Rotary on Facebook, the Interact Club at River City High School, or call Rotarian and Interact Club adviser Dr. Charyl Silva at (916) 372-8383.

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