By Natalie Strom
For the past eight years, local Keller Williams realtor, Sandi Sims, has hosted a traditional Thanksgiving meal on Marco Island for low income seniors from Naples. With the help of friends, family and the owners of Arturo’s Restaurant, 69 seniors were treated to a sit-down meal with all the fixings at Arturo’s.
When Sandi moved to Marco Island from Colorado, she hoped to carry on her Thanksgiving tradition. “I was a manager at a restaurant in Colorado that provided meals for seniors on Thanksgiving. I wanted to do the same here but it was hard at first to find any low income senior centers in Naples.”
Eventually, Sandi found Goodlette Arms. Part of Full Circle Communities, Inc., Goodlette Arms Apartments is a 250- unit senior Section 8 property in Naples. Residents in 242 of the property’s 250 apartments pay 30 percent of their pre-tax income in rent; the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) pays the remainder. The remaining apartments are subject to a Section 236 loan with slightly different income restrictions. The facility opened on February 21, 2002.
“Goodlette Arms has a bus that it uses to provide transportation to the store, the malls, things like that. But many of the seniors that live there don’t get to go out much other than that. Many rarely have the chance to have a sit down dinner where someone actually serves them,” explained Sandi. “Many of these seniors can’t get to their families to celebrate Thanksgiving. This way they don’t have to spend the holidays alone.”
Over the past eight years, many of the residents of Goodlette Arms have become friends with Sandi and some of the volunteers. “They really look forward to this. It’s a special day for them. They get all dressed up. It’s so nice to see them year after year.”
Hugging Sandi and the other volunteers as they came in and as they left, the residents at Goodlette Arms clearly enjoyed the meal and the company.
Turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, stuffing and gravy were prepared by Tim Collins and Mike and Tom Brennan. Creating an assembly line in the kitchen, the three chefs plated up the food as volunteers lined up to bring trays of Thanksgiving meals out to the tables. Arturo Perez made sure the chefs never ran out of food, restocking as they ran low. Volunteer servers filled drinks, served plates, cleared empty plates and served pumpkin or pecan pie for dessert.
What sets this charitable event apart from others is that Sandi and the volunteers do not belong to any organization; they simply come together on Thanksgiving day and provide their time or cash. “I have a number of people who donate money. It pays for the three buses from Naples Transportation and covers the cost of the food. Since we aren’t a non-profit organization, we don’t receive discounts on the food. Those who can’t give money give their time.” About 25 volunteers lent a hand or made a monetary donation to assist in the successful event.
The volunteers are simply Sandi’s friends and family that are eager to contribute to a good cause. Volunteers also helped stuff stockings filled with baked goods, Christmas decorations, oranges and lotions. Guests were surprised and delighted to receive the stockings as they left.
In the past, Sandi has held the dinner at a number of restaurant’s on Marco Island. Arturo Perez offered his restaurant for this year’s event. “I’m so glad everybody enjoyed themselves. All the volunteers did a beautiful job.” Modest of his own efforts, Arturo stated, “Everybody else did all the hard work. I just gave them the place.”
“I’m truly grateful to Arturo for taking the time out of his own holiday to open up his restaurant for us. Normally Arturo’s is closed on Thanksgiving, so it was incredibly generous of him to do this,” stated Sandi.
For Arturo, it was all about the spirit of Thanksgiving. “It’s nice to see people care about other people.”
Added Sandi, “It all comes from the goodness of these people who donated their money and time. It’s not a charity, I don’t have a foundation. It’s just something that we all like to do. It’s always such a wonderful day.”