ST. GEORGE — A night of food, gifts and service took place at the Dixie Elks Lodge Tuesday for those with disabilities; each participant mingled with local law enforcement and received gifts provided by Toys for Tots.
For more than 15 years, a special holiday dinner has been organized by The Arc of Washington County, a community-based nonprofit advocacy organization serving people in the community with disabilities and their families.
“It’s a lot of fun to come in here and do this,” Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher said, “and it’s sometimes really difficult to get those involved with The Arc and the officers together, but this gives us a perfect opportunity to serve them dinner, and to enjoy a holiday meal with them.”
The event was held at the Dixie Elks Lodge, located at 630 W. 1250 North in St. George, where officers, detectives, dispatchers from the St. George Communications Center and other law enforcement personnel cooked and served a full course dinner to more than 100 guests.
For years the dinner took place at Staheli’s Barn in Washington; however, that venue could not accommodate the growth of the group and the increase in attendance, so several years ago they relocated to the Dixie Elks Lodge which was a more suitable venue, Terry Hawks, executive director for The Arc of Washington County, said.
“We host this activity for everyone in the community with a disability, and we all come together to give back to the community,” Hawks added.
The Dixie Elks Lodge has provided the venue free of charge for the past 10 years. There is even a bus that transports everyone to and from the dinner. The Dixie Elks Lodge’s Exhalted Leader, Leo Lang, said he considers this holiday celebration one of the highlights of the year.
“This Christmas party for The Arc program is one event where so many people get together for one cause, and no matter what their age is they still love to talk to Santa, ” Lang said.
After dinner, Arc guests lined up to visit with Santa, and thanks to Toys for Tots each guest was given a gift including a bath set and two stuffed animals once they reached the big guy, retired Marine Gy. Sgt. and Toys for Tots coordinator Rick Massey said.
“Toys for Tots comes in and helps with the cooking, serving and cleanup,” Massey said, “and we also bring two stuffed animals and a bath set for all of the special needs kids and adults attending.”
While Massey continues filling the warehouse with toys to be delivered to needy children through the Toys for Tots program this holiday, he was also busy collecting hundreds of stuffed animals and the bath sets that included body wash, lotion and other items to be wrapped and presented to each person attending the dinner.
“It’s just the feeling of gratitude and the experience of serving here tonight, it’s overwhelming,” he said.
Five years ago law enforcement became involved with the dinner, Pulsipher said, and since then the number of law enforcement and volunteers has grown. Several agencies were represented as more the 30 law enforcement personnel supported the event through service.
Officers from the St. George, Washington City and LaVerkin police departments, along with dispatchers from the St. George Communications Center, as well as deputies and detectives from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, were in attendance.
“We actually have them sit down and we serve them dinner,” Pulsipher said, “so we have law enforcement from all of the different agencies around come and support the event.”
Washington County Explorer cadets handed out presents and assisted the group throughout the evening.
For St. George Police Officer Seth LeFevre and two dispatchers, Amelia Jones and Katie Roquet, this was their first year volunteering at the holiday dinner, and all three agreed it is something they will do again. The experience left an impression on them as well.
“I loved it, and it was so neat sitting and talking with all of the kids,” Jones said.
For Roquet, the night held a lot of diversity and a good feeling about the holidays.
“In general, meeting new people while we were serving them food was really a lot of fun,” Roquet said.
Lefevre particularly enjoyed the spirit of Christmas that surrounded the dinner.
“This group of people kind of touched my heart,” Lefevre said, “and I love being able to be here enjoying the spirit of Christmas with them.”
The trio took part in serving and cleanup during the dinner and then afterward by assisting with the large group that was waiting to spend a minute with Santa.
The food was prepared at the lodge and was donated by SYSCO foods, Pulsipher said, adding that the company has been very generous with this community, not only with Tuesday’s event, but many other local events as well.
“It’s just a good way to support our community, for everyone involved,” the sheriff added.
Taking a break during cleanup, Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue liaison Deputy Darrell Cashin summed the evening up.
“These folks here absolutely love law enforcement, so it’s good for us too,” he said.
The Arc of Washington County
The Arc was formed more than 60 years ago from a grassroots movement of families working to create services for children and adults who were being denied day care, educational opportunities and work programs, according to the organization’s website.
Comprised of a small group of concerned and passionate parents and community members who would be a catalyst for changing the public perception of children with disabilities, the organization has continued to grow and evolve along with the changing needs and issues people with disabilities and their families face, the website states.
For more information on The Arc of Washington County – click here.
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