By Joey McWilliams
CALERA – On Friday, the Rising Star Masonic Lodge No. 129 joined forces with the Calera Senior Center, as it does once a year, to put on a major fundraiser.
The Senior Center has a couple of fundraising meals each month, but this one was special as the Masonic Lodge pledged matching funds up to $1,500 for the money raised at the Burger Day.
Calera Chief of Police Donnie Hyde talked about the great response by the community for the event.
“It’s been overwhelming,” Hyde said. “It’s from a lot of the local businesses and the larger companies, and you’ll get most all the vet clinics that will call in with a 15-20 (meal) order-to-go. And just a lot of the big companies like Big Lots and the Choctaw Nation, from the travel plazas to the gaming side to the theatre side. It’s just been good.”
The organization regularly feeds seniors lunch five days a week, according to Brenda Scalf, manager of the center.
“And we have a breakfast fundraiser on the first Friday of the month from 6:30-9:30 in the morning, and we have a hamburger fundraiser the second Friday of the month from about 10:30 in the morning until about 1:00,” Scalf said.
“This one is a special one because the lodge is sponsoring it. It helps us run because we’re a non-profit. And we take donations for the meals because there are a lot of people that can’t pay.
“We buy our own food. This helps us go because I don’t get enough money during the week and this supplements it.”
Along with providing meals each, the center is open for people to simply get together and play dominos and more.
“These are important and it gives the seniors a place to go to be cool in the summer and warm in the winter,” Scalf said. “And it gives them fellowship.
“We do flu shots and blood pressure checks and different organizations that do healthcare come and set up and do those things for us. We also have different classes on diabetes or exercise going through the months.”
Scalf said that the group receives a grant from the Southern Oklahoma Development Association.
“That doesn’t keep us going though. It takes a lot to run a place and feed a lot of people that can’t pay. And it’s all volunteer work.”
She did stress that there was one volunteer whose work stood out.
“Donnie Hyde. We just couldn’t do the things we do without him. He works really hard and gets us connected with all these groups.”
Hyde said he started working more closely with the senior center a few years back when the federal government made cuts to programs like this one.
“Many of them closed down,” Hyde said. “And at that time, when I learned about this, I asked our town council if I could take that over and make it work. So we’ve been running four or five years strong, maybe a little bit longer, with what we do with our fundraisers, donations, etc.”
Hyde is the president of the Calera Senior Center. And he has taken the tradition he started about 10 years ago at the police station and transferred to a new location.
“We were in the old police department and I had bought a couple of hot plates and I had opened the front door and the back door of the police department and we would cook breakfast. We did it every Friday and I did it up until I learned about what the government had done.
“I elected to move it over to the senior center and do it once a month. And it just took off and that’s what kept us funded these years.”
Hyde said he was a Mason and a proud Shriner and this annual fundraising effort with the Masonic Lodge has been great.
He was one of a number of people cooking the burgers, with many others, along with Scalf and her husband Butch, who were making sure the people who had come had their orders taken and presented properly.
After standing for a while in the kitchen making the burgers, Hyde said his legs were tired, but that it was it was fun.
“It’s not about the police department or about Don Hyde, but when you’re transparent enough and approachable enough that the community comes and they can cut up with you and enjoy the food and the fellowship, it’s good.
“If it wasn’t for that center, probably two-thirds of the people that attend there on a weekly basis would never see anybody. Some get there at 7:00 in the morning and leave when it closes. They play dominos and just a number of things. It’s good times.”
And maybe his favorite part of the day?
“There’s nothing like the smell of onions on the grill,” Hyde said.
“There’s no better smell, and you can quote me on that. It’s good stuff.”
Final numbers from the fundraiser showed more than $1,800 was taken in during the day. With $1,500 of that matched by the Masonic Lodge, the Senior Center brought in more $3,300 for Friday’s efforts.