As the holiday season approaches, most cooks are thinking of preparing a larger than normal meal for visiting friends and family. Sue Safarjian, however, is planning a meal for up to 850 people.
That’s how many meals the Kingsburg Cancer Volunteers will prepare for one of their annual fundraisers that coincides with the Santa Lucia festivities.
The volunteers with the nonprofit have quietly, but steadily, been raising funds for local cancer patients since the late 1970s and say it’s only recently that word about the organization has spread. The group started out with just six members and now has 50 volunteers that will help prepare and serve the meal that morning.
Sue Safarjian is among Kingsburg Cancer Volunteers founders who recalled their early days when she held a wine-tasting in her backyard in 1978 to start the nonprofit. “A Little Bit of Country was the name of it,” Safarjian said. “There was such a need and the need was immediate,” she said of their motivation to start the group. “All of us are volunteers and everything we make stays right here.”
KCV has helped pay for burial services and purchased needed items such as medical supplies, groceries and gas vouchers for local cancer patients. For this chicken dinner fundraiser, patients will also receive complimentary meals.
Treasurer Cheryl Rocha says even though they’ve been active for decades now, awareness about their efforts is only now slowly beginning to spread.
“People are now beginning to be aware of how we can help. We get phone calls from people now asking what we can do and how they can donate,” she said.
“Right now, we only have two children we’re helping that are under 6 years old with leukemia,” Chairwoman Nancy Fry said.
They also raise funds through donations, memorials and by co-hosting a spring dinner at the Kingsburg Gun Club. For the Santa Lucia event, they’ll serve up to 850 meals this year and are accepting desserts as donations as well.
“Today, Sue’s going to prepare the vermicelli and she’ll make 12 roasters of pilaf,” Fry said. Safarjian’s advice is to buy quality ingredients.
“Don’t buy cheap stuff when you go to buy the ingredients. Get the best butter and brown the vermicelli in the oven. I like mine brown because it gives it a good taste.”
On the morning of Santa Lucia, Sue said her son, Steve Safarjian, will start boiling the broth very early in the day.
“The biggest challenge is getting the broth boiling because it takes those big pans a long time to boil. Then, I’ll go around taste everything to make sure they haven’t forgotten anything and put in the bouillon cubes.”
Safarjian is 97 and said even though she’s recovering from a broken leg, she doesn’t want to slow down. She’s proud of the club’s growth and continued service and said for as long as she’s able she’d rather be helping take care of others by cooking in the kitchen.
“The doctor told me I’d probably never walk again, but now I put all my weight on my leg and I do my physical therapy because I’m not ready to sit down in a chair. I want to be doing something. This is my joy in life. Like they said, I’ll bake a cake and if I know somebody is sick, I’ll take it to them. I just enjoy living.”
Meanwhile, Selma and Kingsburg Chambers of Commerce are preparing to host a number of seasonal traditions.
In Selma, Santa arrives during its Christmas parade from 5-8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2, on Downtown High Street. The event includes a holiday craft fair, food and music. The community Christmas tree at Lincoln Park will also be lit. Vendors’ booths will be set up on High Street for shopping. Designing Women will again host a Men’s Night Out Thursday, Dec. 7, to help men get their holiday shopping done as well.
Kingsburg is getting a jumpstart on festivities with a community caroling and tree-lighting ceremony known as Julgransfest from 6-8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 24. Carolers start off at Memorial Park and make their way down Draper to the community Christmas tree. The tree lighting and Swedish ring dancing follows.
Swedish Festival Queen Lindsey Roman said she likes how the holiday events get the entire community involved.
“Julgransfest is so community oriented since we walk together and sing Christmas carols. I just think that’s a neat experience for people who’d like to come out and walk with us and dance. They can always join in and we’ll have a great time.”
This year, Roman will re-enact Santa Lucia for the Festival of Lights parade at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 2. The Santa Lucia Celebration is 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Dec. 2 in Downtown Draper.
Santa Lucia is celebrated to remember the love a young Sicilian girl living in the third Century had for her impoverished fellow Christians. Lucia wore a crown of candles to free her hands so she could carry food to the Christians who were hiding in caves. She refused to denounce her faith and was martyred when she was 20.
Swedes learned of Lucia from Viking explorers and the tradition of remembering her continues in Sweden on Dec. 13. On that day, the oldest daughter of the household wears a long white gown, red sash and glowing crown of candles. She sings the Lucia song and awakens the rest of the family by serving saffron buns and coffee at their bedside.
Roman said she’s like many youth in the community who’ve ridden on floats with their classmates during the Festival of Lights parade.
“I remember being in the parade with my kindergarten class,” Roman said. “One time I had a broken foot and was with the E&e Performing Arts. I was supposed to walk in it. Everybody had their lights but I had to ride in the car and lean out the window with my broken foot.”
Yolanda Castaneda was busy sprucing up Santa’s hut that sits on Draper Street and says she looks forward to seeing Downtown lit up for the occasion.
“We’re touching up the Santa hut for when he comes and talks with the kids and takes their wishes,” Castaneda said. “We want to make it look good for him. The best part is the lighting and to see everything lit up to start the season.”