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One of the dessert trays makes its way around the 39th Annual Grey Bears Holiday Dinner Sunday at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. (Dan Coyro/Sentinel)

SANTA CRUZ -- A warm turkey-and-the-trimmings dinner, fresh pie, live entertainment, friendship and no check -- it's no wonder more than 1,000 seniors attended the 39th annual Grey Bears Holiday Dinner Sunday at the Civic Auditorium.

Organizers were planning for close to 1,500 for the popular holiday tradition, after getting 1,400 last year, but stormy weather around the 11:30 a.m. start led to less attendance than usual, said Tim Brattan, executive director of the California Grey Bears.

"But we had some buses full of people from South County, and many others who made it," Brattan said. "We're delighted. We've got a long legacy, and a lot of good partners. It's been an amazing 40 years."

The meal was free for any person age 55 or older, and scores of volunteers helped, he said.

The dinner, plus a holiday meal and goodies delivery to about 1,400 homebound seniors on Dec. 13 and 14, will cost the nonprofit agency about $30,000, Brattan said.

Jane Anglin of Santa Cruz, who came to the dinner with her son, Elmo, a Grey Bears volunteer, said she is "most grateful" for the annual affair.

"It's just lovely, honey," she said. "It couldn't get any better."

Carol Pereyra was helping out at the dinner, seating people and serving meals.

Pereyra also donated 350 scarves that she knitted, to the first folks who showed up. Santa and Mrs. Claus held the scarves on their arms as the welcomed people, she said.

"No one could believe they were free; I got the biggest kick out of it," she said. "But some things really are free. I have to do more next year."

Ruth Seidel was one of those enjoying the dinner, while a young boy on stage played "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" on a violin.

Seidel dressed for the occasion, in a red sweater with Christmas-gift Teddy Bears printed on it and a red bow around her neck. Her neighbors wore fancy felt hats, shiny, jeweled sweaters and other bright holiday finery.

Seidel termed the meal "fabulous." A man sitting across the long table from her, Dan Knoll of Westside Santa Cruz, agreed, saying "it's always been good."

"I've been a Grey Bear for years," Seidel said, adding that she picks up a bag of produce every week from a Grey Bears pickup spot in the Shadowbrook parking lot.

Some of the produce is gleaned from area fields, she said.

Seidel said she also attends the group's summer picnic, which was on her 80th birthday this year, Sept. 25.

Sunday's performers included the Great Morgani, Santa Cruz Dance Co., Elaine's Dance Studio, the Tehauni Dancers, the International Academy of Dance and young violinist Benjamin Rivers. Santa Cruz IATSE Local 611 donated stage crew services.

The meal was cooked by Santa Cruz Diner, the pies were from Gizdich Ranch and the coffee was from Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting, organizers said.

Aside from the weekly brown bag produce program, California Grey Bears operates thrift and computer electronics stores at 2710 Chanticleer Ave., plus recycling centers, including e-waste recycling, at the Chanticleer Avenue headquarters and at the Buena Vista Landfill near Watsonville.

Membership is $20 per year and includes a brown bag of produce and groceries 48 weeks per year, along with other benefits, for its members, who are 55 years and older.

Grey Bears was started in 1973 by two UC Santa Cruz students and two seniors who had excess produce in their gardens to share.

Reach them at 479-1055 or by email at info@greybears.org.

Follow Sentinel reporter Cathy Kelly on Twitter at Twitter.com/cathykelly9