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Columbia Town Center Rotary Valentine’s Gala

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If you weren’t at the Columbia Town Center Sheraton on Saturday evening, Feb. 6, you missed a fun time as the Columbia Town Center Rotary Club put on its annual Valentine’s Gala.

The event, which was attended by 150 people, included a cocktail hour with a classical guitarist, a buffet dinner, dancing and a silent auction of more than 50 items to raise money for local charities. The gala is the club’s main fundraiser of the year.

“We started the gala six years ago,” said Sharon Waligora, chairperson for the event. “It was fun and successful then, and it gets even better every year.” This event enables the club to support more than 20 charitable organizations in the community, through donations and actual engagement from Rotarian members.

This year, the club introduced its inaugural “Citizens Who Make a Difference Award.” This award recognizes individuals who have identified a need in the community and through their leadership and will have made a difference in the lives of many within that community. This year’s honorees are Carol Hill, Jomo Fowlkes and Lauren Robinson. The presenters were club members Sharon Waligora and Roger Lerner.

Carol Hill was recognized for her initiative and leadership to start, maintain and grow the Open Doors Food Pantry at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Highland. The pantry, which opens one day a month, provides a no-cost source of wholesome food, including canned goods, dry foods, fresh bread, produce and frozen meats, to families in need. The Open Doors Pantry served seven families on its first day of operation in July 2013; since then, it has grown steadily and last November served 105 families on a single Saturday.

Lauren Robinson and Jomo Fowlkes were recognized for their work to start and build the Blessing in a Backpack/Food for Kids Program at Running Brook Elementary School. They started a program that supplies child-friendly, easily prepared food for the weekends and holidays for each child in need, sending it home in a backpack each weekend. Initially funded from private funds and a supportive principal, it began receiving the help of the Columbia Town Center Rotary Club and the Open Doors Food Pantry, which allowed the program to offer more nutritious foods and reach more children in their community.

The sentiment throughout the evening was a resounding and heartfelt, “Thank you.” David Rodriguez, club president, said, “While there are those in need, we will be here to support, and we will continue to recognize citizens who are bold enough to come out of the shadows to galvanize resources, people and effort to address pain and hurt in our community. We also want to thank our generous sponsors and guests whose support provides funding that will help our locally supported charities.”

Some of the organizations that this event directly supports are: Grassroots, Bridges to Housing Stability, Hope Works, Community Action Council of Howard County, Our House, Conexiones and Athelas Institute.

The Columbia Town Center Rotary Club meets every Wednesday at 12:15 p.m. at the Sheraton Town Center. To learn more about the club and the organizations it supports, visit the club’s website: www.ctcrotary.org.