The Salvation Army tradition that almost wasn’t

Volunteers pitch in to celebrate

What started out as an impromptu Christmas party for a handful of lonely seniors five years ago has become a well-loved tradition for the young and young at heart.

The Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary hosted its fifth annual holiday luncheon for seniors and homeless clients Dec. 5 at the San Diego Centre City Corps Community Center.

Adding a new dimension to the tradition was the addition of guests from the San Diego Center for Children.

“For the last four years, this idea has grown and people have been added to it,” said Mary Johnson, past president of the Auxiliary.

Half a decade ago, while preparing to decorate for a toy distribution event, Auxiliary volunteers learned there was a mix-up with several senior ladies who wanted to help out. When they learned that it would be the only holiday interaction for many of them, they decided to do something to change that.

Several traditions from that first slapdash gathering have been passed down through the years, including a Christmas carol sing-along and cookie decorating.

This year there were several new additions for the 50 or so seniors, some of whom are residents at the Salvation Army Silvercrest Senior Residence, others who are developmentally disabled seniors and a few homeless clients.

Artist Patti Cooprider led crafts for the group, while Frank Fernicola of Big Animals for Little Kids circulated through the crowd performing magic tricks. The San Diego Center for Children’s choir, under the direction of Sundiata Okata, gave a brief performance before joining in on the fun. Hand-knit hats and scarves, made especially for the partygoers, were presented to the seniors.

La Jolla residents John and Rosina Beaver and John Litchem were among the volunteers on hand.

“It was kind of happy confusion,” said La Jollan Cynthia Kronemyer, current Auxiliary president. “There were so many things going on.”

The Auxiliary allows people to volunteer in a variety of ways beyond the red kettle and marching band of the Salvation Army, said Kronemyer, adding that working face-to-face with clients reveals their struggles.

“It’s the things you don’t get on the surface,” she said. “What it hammered home for me was how blessed beyond belief I am. It was nice to have an opportunity to just do something, whatever I could, to brighten the holidays for other people who are facing any number of other challenges.