Lions Club sweethearts’ dinner reconnects seniors

HOWARD — After 50 years it’s hard to put a name with a face, but at the annual Sweetheart Dinner in Howard, there’s plenty of time for remembering.

That’s what Josephine Woodring was doing while she ate her turkey and ham dinner on Saturday at the event hosted by the Howard Lions Club.

Woodring and her sister Sara Jane Shearer, who are both Blanchard natives but now live in Pleasant Gap, scanned the crowd of 300 seniors to find old friends from school or the neighborhood.

“I’ve been away since 1956 when I got married,” Woodring said. “They’ve changed a lot, but you know the face and you just have to figure out the name.”

The free dinner for seniors in Howard and surrounding areas has been held every year since 1980 as a public service and a way to encourage the older community to reconnect.

“Back in those days, senior people didn’t have places to get out much,” said Bill Holt, the club member who came up with the idea nearly three decades ago. “We set this up to give them some place to go and visit with their neighbors and feed them a good meal.”

Holt, a lifelong Howard resident and retiree, said he used to know everyone on his block but now there are more rental properties and transient families. The Sweet Heart Dinner is a tradition that many guests said evoke a sense of the close-knit communities of their younger years.

“I’ve had so much fun today seeing my old friends and talking to them,” Shearer said. “I look forward to that more so than the meal.”

While the event began with about 50 guests in its first year, it now takes that many volunteers to serve everyone.

On Saturday, 130 pounds each of turkey and ham were served, and 50 loaves of bread were used to make the homemade stuffing, not to mention all the side dishes.

Cooks started preparing two days before, and on the day of the event, there’s a job for every Lion from valet parking to guarding the pie room until dessert time.

The event is also a way for the Lions Club to give back to all the people who donate time and money to its many volunteer efforts, which include operation of the Howard Area Food Bank and a medical equipment loan service.Grover Graham Jr., 53, a newer member said he joined the club because he felt he had more time to volunteer. “I’m amazed that they put this on,” he said. “This is no small deal.”

Leaders said the group is the largest Lions Club in Pennsylvania, with 113 members. In between the frenzied rush to serve the food while it was hot, Graham said he was able to reconnect with old faces.

Shearer was close friends and neighbors with his mother when they were both young mothers in Blanchard.“She came up to me and said, ‘Do you know who I am?’ and I said, ‘Yes I do,’ ” Graham said. “I grew up with her kids.”

Before the afternoon could come to a close, however, the seniors had one important task. They helped consume about 200 pies, mostly homemade and brought by club members.

John Daly, 92, said he always chooses cherry at he event, and his sparkling eyes perfectly reflected his pleasure.

“I think the food is pretty good,” he said. “I wouldn’t come back if it wasn't.”