How a senior meals program has made holidays special for four decades

HADDONFIELD, New Jersey (WPVI) -- "It's really important for me to teach Aiden to give back to the community," said Courtney Bracken. "Do a nice gesture for others."

Bracken and her sons, Aiden and Cameron, lended a hand with the Senior Citizen Holiday Meal Program today. The grassroots effort has been grown through word-of-mouth over the last four decades.

Dozens of volunteers join hands on holidays like Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas to cook and package food for seniors, veterans, disabled individuals, or anyone without families. The Bracken family in particular got involved for a sentimental reason.

"Aiden's father was a veteran and he passed away in 2017," said Bracken. "So, this is a way for us to give back in remembrance of him."

One recipient, Grace Metzger, was thrilled to hear the Bracken family knocking on her door with a meal in hand.

"That's so kind of them to do that on their holiday like this," she said. "I live all by myself, but this helps me a lot."

Helping folks like Metzger has always been the goal for the program's coordinator, Steve DiOrio.

"I never dreamt when I was 24, that at 65, I'd still be doing it, but here we are," he said.

DiOrio started out as a volunteer for a separate program in the late 1970s. But around 1981, he learned it would be dissolved.

"I called in a bunch of friends. We all brought food," he said. "Since then, we've been fluctuating between five and 6,000 meals all over South Jersey."

DiOrio is confident that the community will carry on this tradition for generations to come. Anyone interested in learning more can reach him by email at seniorholidaymeals@gmail.com.

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