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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Young and old gather for annual Thanksgiving Dinner Dance

Zo%C3%AB+Welsh+22+%28left%29+and+Anna+Pirolli+21+%28right%29+talk+to+attendees+at+the+event.+PHOTOS%3A+Alex+Hargrave+20
Zoë Welsh ’22 (left) and Anna Pirolli ’21 (right) talk to attendees at the event. PHOTOS: Alex Hargrave ’20

Smooth jazz filled Doyle Banquet Hall in Campion Student Center, along with the sweet aroma of pumpkin pie on Nov. 21. About 350 senior citizens waited at tables for dinner or gathered on the dance floor as the annual Senior Citizen Thanksgiving Dinner Dance got underway.

For the past 43 years, St. Joe’s has put together a Thanksgiving dinner dance for senior citizens from senior homes and centers in the local area, providing them with live entertainment, a chance to win raffle prizes and a feast.

“Free entertainment, delicious food, this is a great place,” said Juanita Moore, of West Philadelphia, dressed in a matching black and white skirt ensemble and draped in pearls. Moore was accompanied by her daughter, Sonja Williams, both from West Philadelphia.

The event is organized by a student-run group, headed this year by co-presidents Devon D’Andrea ’20 and Maeve Sargeant ’20, who have participated in the event since their first year at St. Joe’s. Under the leadership of five students and one faculty advisor, up to 100 campus volunteers help to put on the dance each year. Campus Ministry also serves as a resource, providing decorations, sending out invitations and supplying volunteers.

A couple dances at the event.

“It’s a lot of stress the first three months of the school year,” D’Andrea said. “There’s so much planning and so much heart that go into this event.”

However, on the night of the dance, D’Andrea said all of the work is worth it.

“It’s such an outpouring of love that is so infectious,” D’Andrea said. 

Last year’s dance fell on the night of a big snow storm, causing the event to be canceled. One couple did manage to make their way to campus, though. Maya Garifalos, of Upper Darby, said she has been coming to the event for the past 10 years and wouldn’t have missed it. 

“We came anyways,” Garifalos said. “We were the only ones here. We didn’t know they cancelled it, but we came. That’s how committed we are to this. We had pizza. That’s all they had. At least we ate.”

Students and attendees dance during the event.

With temperatures in the mid-50s and a dry forecast this year, the dance went off with only one minor hitch. At one point, an attendee’s Life Alert system accidentally alerted paramedics, who arrive on scene with a stretcher in hand. Fortunately, no one needed to be put on it. 

The demand for the event is high. Sargeant said it has to be capped at 350 people. 

“Some are put on a waiting list,” Sargeant explained. “We do make sure that those individuals are able to come the year after to ensure that we are spreading the message and this event to as many people as we can.” 

Many of the attendees referred to it as the “highlight of their year,” as did Amir Rawji, of Philadelphia.

“St. Joe’s does a really wonderful job, doing this for so many people,” Rawji said. “I’m always very impressed.”

Some, like Moore, want the event to happen more than once a year. 

“It’d be nice if they expand it for not only Thanksgiving,” Moore said. “I wouldn’t mind coming here for Easter dinner, and Mother’s Day, and Christmas, whatever they feel like doing. It doesn’t have to be just for Thanksgiving.”

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