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A sold-out crowd filled the plaza of the Bella Vida Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center Saturday evening for center’s annual Celebrity Waiter night themed “Bella Notte at Bella Vida … an Italian Night Under the Stars.” 

The evening honored the center’s Meals on Wheels Ambassadors, who deliver food to seniors in the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys. 

Volunteers delivered many meals during the pandemic. 

“We delivered over a million meals during the pandemic,” said Kevin MacDonald, the center’s CEO, noting a goal of raising $100,000 for the center that night. 

Event Co-Chairs Erika Kauzlarich-Bird, center, and Elizabeth Hopp welcome guest to the Italian themed “Bella Notte at Bella Vida” 2021 Celebrity Waiter dinner held at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center at Bella Vida on Saturday, 071721. Dan Watson/The Signal

Peggy Rasmussen served as the president of the center’s board for eight years. She praised MacDonald for his decisive leadership during the pandemic. 

“You can build a building, but the key factor is who runs the organization,” said Rasmussen. “I love supporting (the center) because I love watching it grow on an organizational basis.” 

The pandemic increased the demand for the center’s services, which led to the growth of the Meals on Wheels program. 

“We went from 350 meals a day to 800. The largest number was 806,” said Lynne Hazen, the director of the center’s Meals on Wheels program. “And we went from 10 routes to 22 routes, and we went from 70 volunteer drivers to 110 volunteer drivers.” 

Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center Master of Ceremonies Melanie Meyer, left, and CEO Kevin MacDonald welcome guest to the Italian themed Bella Notte at Bella Vida 2021 Celebrity Waiter dinner held at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center at Bella Vida on Saturday, 071721. Dan Watson/The Signal

She said the last 16 months has been busy but also “awesome and rewarding.” 

“So many people need us out there, you know, and sometimes we’re the only person they see. They look forward to their meals on wheels driver coming in to check on them,” Hazen said, noting homebound seniors without family or friends. “Not only do we deliver a meal, but we deliver a smile and we do a welfare check we make sure they’re okay.” 

Ambassadors served as the evening’s waiters, guiding attendees to scan a QR code enabling them to donate to the SCV Senior Center. 

Attendees sit at decorated tables with an Italian theme during the Bella Notte at Bella Vida 2 021Celebrity Waiter dinner held at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center at Bella Vida on Saturday, 071721. Dan Watson/The Signal

“We’re able to put them in the limelight and give them the recognition that they deserve for all of the time that they’ve put into this great venue,” said Erika Kauzlarich-Bird, an event co-chair alongside Elizabeth Hopp.  

Larry Serraino, a Meals on Wheels ambassador, said his experience delivering meals has been very rewarding. 

“I’ve been doing it for about a year and I don’t plan to alter it and (I’ll) really continue on with it,” he said. “It’s a good feeling.” 

Horacio Rivera is also a Meals on Wheels ambassador. He expressed his appreciation for the donors who make the Meals on Wheels program a reality. 

“I’m so happy to be part of the family,” he said of the people he works with at the SCV Senior Center. “It’s an incredible experience to make smile the people who really (have) need in the community.” 

Nikki Cervantes applauds the entertainment while wearing a pizza chef costume during the “Bella Notte at Bella Vida” 2021 Celebrity Waiter dinner held at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center at Bella Vida on Saturday, 071721. Dan Watson/The Signal

Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger met with several Meals on Wheels volunteers during the event. Barger called the volunteers the “fabric of the Senior Center.” 

“This is the jewel of the county,” she said of the center. “I mean this senior center, I tell people, is probably the most beautiful in L.A. County and I’m not being biased. It’s just a fact.” 

Barger also applauded Rasmussen for her tenacity to complete the center. 

“Tonight is a celebration of really a lot of hard work but it’s a lot of hard work by the volunteers that are making this a great place it is,” she said. 

Kat Keating, center, arrives with her group dresses for the Italian theme of the “Bella Notte at Bella Vida” 2021 Celebrity Waiter dinner held at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center at Bella Vida on Saturday, 071721. Dan Watson/The Signal

Santa Clarita Mayor Bill Miranda, a former celebrity waiter, said building the current SCV Senior Center was a big grassroots project. 

“It is critical to have a strong senior center and that the community supports it in a very strong manner,” he said. 

Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Santa Clarita, said the center has been “doing the right thing for our seniors” during the pandemic. 

“To me it’s fitting that it’s literally right in the middle of the Santa Clarita Valley and it is, is metaphorically and literally the backbone of our neighborhoods,” he said. 

Soprano, Francesca Sola entertains with operatic and Italian songs during the Italian themed Bella Notte at Bella Vida 2 021 Celebrity Waiter dinner held at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center at Bella Vida on Saturday, 071721. Dan Watson/The Signal

Assemblywoman Suzette Valladares was excited to see the turnout at Saturday night’s event. 

“They were really called to action, to double duty, throughout this pandemic feeding our seniors and those with food insecurities,” she said of her support of the center.