Rotarians bring a little warmth along with Christmas Day meals for seniors

Rotarians Fred and Debbie Herrera stand with fellow Rotarians Phaedra Kunze and Vickie Walker to show some of the blankets to be delivered along with Christmas Day meals to senior citizens in the community. Courtesy photos/Debbie Herrera photo

All four Temecula Rotary Clubs held the 25th annual Community Christmas Dinner at the Mary Phillips Senior Center in Old Town Temecula on Christmas Day – and while folks were feasting, another group was delivering blankets to seniors to keep them warm while they dine at home on hand-delivered meals.

“We started doing the delivery to the senior citizens who, you know, can’t leave their place or don’t leave their place and have nowhere to go on Christmas,’ volunteer Rotarian Debbie Herrera said.

“A few years back, we were delivering to this one senior citizen lady, and she asked, ‘Can you please come in and put it on the counter?’” she said. “It was freezing in there. I’m like, ‘Oh my God, can I put your heater on for you?’ And she said, ‘No, we can’t afford the heater.’”

The next year Herrera went to Macy’s and got a great deal on blankets to hand out to people who needed them during her Christmas meal deliveries.

“Then I thought, you know what I want to do a blanket fundraiser and see how many blankets we can collect, at least for the complex that I deliver to,” she said. “So, I wanted to collect for 30 blankets.”

Then, Herrera’s boss, former state Sen. Jeff Stone, donated $1,000 to the cause, which could buy more than 100 blankets.

“We decided then that we were going to give a blanket to every person we deliver food to,” Herrera said. “This blanket drive, as the hospitals became involved, the Boy Scouts got involved. We are getting requests from everybody about the blankets and we ended up with over 240 blankets this year.”

This year, they were able to give every senior two blankets since they had such great involvement from the community.

“So, not only did they get a meal and have turkey and ham, potatoes, gravy, stuffing, rolls and pie, they got blankets as well and it was just really nice,” Herrera said.

Donors to this year’s blanket drive included The Office of Jeff Stone; Professional Woman’s Roundtable of Murrieta; Valley Neurology – Dr. Pamela Alvarez; Foundation for Senior Care Fallbrook; Fallbrook Blanket Project, which made crocheted blankets; Loma Linda Hospital; Promenade Temecula; American Eagle; Cub Scout Pack 301; Rancho Springs and Inland Valley Medical Center; Lake Elsinore Rotary; Murrieta VIP Florist; Becky Young; Joan Sparkman; Emily Padella; Magda Stewart; Lisa Harris; Debra Smith; Reality Rally; expBookkeeping Services; Jami and Mike Fencel; Temecula Valley Pools; Riptide Systems and Kimberly Uhler.

As beneficial as it was for the seniors to receive the blankets, it meant just as much to the people doing the delivering, Herrera said.

“This couple, who has never done it with us before, they were brand-new this year, we let them go to the first place to deliver,” she said. “They came back crying and she goes, ‘Oh my God, the lady just cried so much because she got a blanket.’ I said, ‘I told you it’s going to affect you.’ So she’s like, ‘Can we do this next year?’”

Herrera said they are going to start the fundraiser for next year’s blanket drive a little bit early this year and see if she can top this year’s totals. She said people can get involved by contacting the Rotary Club of Temecula.

Back at Mary Phillips Senior Center, dozens of volunteers served free hot Christmas Day meals to more than a thousand visitors this year.

Event coordinator Mark Sitar led the group of Rotarians in the event that also featured photos with Santa Claus and an age-appropriate, wrapped toy for every child that attended.

Jeff Pack can be reached by email at