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Salad luncheon: Mini-reunions of family, friends
Seven-month-old Dario Salazar cant wait to get a close-up look at the Christmas item that mom Angela has just purchased from one of the craft booths that took part in the annual salad luncheon and craft faire at St. Anthonys School on Wednesday. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Something that’s been around for nearly a half century is bound to evolve into a number of things.

Such is the case of the St. Anthony School’s annual holiday luncheon sponsored by the school’s Parent-Teacher Group.

The original intent when it was first launched 47 years ago was to raise a bit of money to help the school with things that the school budget could not cover no matter how much it got stretched. That purpose still holds true today.

But through the years, this staple November extravaganza has metamorphosed into a variety of mini-events within a single event for the people who have been perennial guests as well as those who have just discovered it in recent years.

It’s a reunion occasion for relatives and friends.

It’s a unique shopping opportunity for those who are looking for one-of-a-kind handmade items either to give as gifts to family and friends with discriminating tastes or to add to their own personal collection.

It’s a vehicle for avid arts-and-crafters to not just show off their latest inventions and creations but to generate a little money to cover their hobbies’ expenses as well. Along the way, the PTG decided to diversify its fund-raising portfolio and added the craft fair to draw a bigger crowd and hopefully increase their fund-raising proceeds in the process.

For newcomers, like Danielle Varni and Gro Sandigo of Emeritus Independent Living, formerly Merrill Gardens on Union Road in Manteca, the salad luncheon and craft faire was an opportunity to scout for outstanding crafters in the area to invite to their Christmas boutique coming up in December, as well as to meet new friends.

“It’s amazing. I can’t believe there are so many vendors here,” said Varni whose husband, Anthony, is a seventh-grade teacher at St. Anthony School.

For Janet Teicheira and her mother Mabel, the luncheon once again afforded them a chance to enjoy an hour-long reunion with their extended family that included Georgiann Rose, owner and designer of Spaces in Manteca. The reunion extended to longtime friends who shared with them one of the long tables in the school gym where the event is held each year.

Rose said she and her business associates “always come to support everybody.” She also took advantage of the shopping opportunity and bought a handmade Christmas decoration that she then presented to her aunt, Mabel Teicheira, as an early Christmas gift.

“I always know they’re going to be here (at the luncheon),” she added, citing another reason why she never misses coming to this event.

It was a different kind of reunion experience that Josie Needham experienced. She had been volunteering for the school since the mid-1970s when her children were attending St. Anthony’s. Her son is now a dentist in Berkeley after graduating from the University of California, San Francisco, and her daughter has graduated from Cal-Poly, San Luis Obispo and is currently a stay-at-home mom. These days, Needham volunteers for her grandchildren who are enrolled at the school.

At the luncheon on Wednesday, she was excited to see the children of the kids who went to school with her own children at St. Anthony’s.

“Now I’m seeing the grandchildren. It’s like a reunion every year,” she said laughing.

While she recalled that during her time back in the 1970s, “the parents had to bring salads (to the event) so there was a wide variety of salads – there were so many different kinds of salads – it’s still successful,” she said of the now-catered luncheon event.

Despite all the changes that have transpired, the school fund-raiser continues to retain the same spirit that it embodied when it was launched by the Parent-Teacher Group, she noted.

“This is just like a big family thing. Everybody works hard to put it together. And everybody has fun,” Needham said.