LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – The underserved and those experiencing homelessness will have a happier holiday this year thanks to the “I Believe in Miracles (IBIM) VIP banquet” at the Dream Center in Lakeland.
On Saturday, 300 three-course meals will be served to those in need in the community. The IBIM VIPs will receive their meal with dessert, haircuts, makeovers, manicures, health screenings if necessary, access to community resources and a free gift.
The event is Saturday with registration beginning at 8:30 a.m.
“We believe that everybody at Christmastime should have someone to be with, family to be with, and we want to be the family to the community here. So we just plan a big ol’ party and they come in and we treat them like VIPs,” said event coordinator Paulette Rolle-Alesnik.
Rolle-Alesnik and volunteers believe that “when you look good, you feel good.”
The event will also feature a form of art therapy, as the banquet theme is “paint your world better.”
Rolle-Alesnik reached out to Veropolo, LLC in Tampa, who provided an artist to start a concept of her vision for banquet guests to build upon. The artist painted a scene with a dark background of black, blues and browns. A paintbrush is in the middle of the scene, painting a simple stroke of bright white, orange and cream colors.
“So the idea is, anything we’re dealing with that is heavy – depression, sadness, homelessness, abuse – on the dark part on the canvas, we’ll put those words. And then, take a moment, step back and go, ‘what would you like to see be the opposite of that?’ and you paint [that word] on the light part. What do you want brought to light in your life this year?” Rolle-Alesnik explained.
Chef Carolyn Allard with the Dream Center will be cooking the grand meal on Saturday. She and other volunteers have already started baking desserts, including three cakes in addition to Christmas cookies, to feed 300 people.
She said two halves of an entire pork loin was donated for the organization to serve up, but they’re making much, much more.
“We’re doing turkeys. We’re doing hams. We did some stuffed chicken. Then we’re doing mashed potatoes, stuffing, mac and cheese, chicken alfredo, regular ziti. So it’s a big menu. There will be a soup,” Allard said.
Just that morning, Allard said she encountered a homeless man and took a few moments to hear his story and invite him to the event.
“It blessed me, because he immediately lit up when I told him how well he was doing. He is in recovery and he is homeless unfortunately, but I invited him to come. I said to him, ‘you ask for me, I’m the cook, I’m the chef, I’m Carolyn, you ask for me,” she said.
Allard is proud to be making a difference in her first year working with the IBIM VIP banquet.
“We’re caring for them. We’re showing them love. We’re helping them. Those are all the different things I think are important for this whole big project that’s going to be happening Saturday,” she said.
Rolle-Alesnik said I Believe in Miracles is a small organization, but they are doing big things that have an everyday impact through their larger events and how they help feed, clothe and provide resources on a weekly basis.
“Though this is a once-a-year event, when we’re on the streets, they’ll remember, ‘oh! You’re the girl!’ or ‘You’re those people who had a party for us. Oh, I still have that jacket! You guys hugged me even though I hadn’t showered, you treated me like you, I felt like family. I felt so important,’” she said. “That’s the impact that we see all year long when we’re out on the streets.”
The organization’s core value is to serve the homeless with dignity and to value their humanity.
“So when people come to these events, I hope it’s always [that] they remember how valuable they are. Because we believe when people are valued, they know they’re valued or they’re reminded about their value, their decisions will be different. The choices they make, daily decisions to paint their lives will be different,” Rolle-Alesnik said.
Currently, IBIM is in need of new, comfortable walking shoes to provide those in need at the banquet. Men’s size 7 to 14 is needed, as well as women’s tennis shoes of all sizes.
Shoes can be dropped off at the Dream Center, located at 635 W 5th St in Lakeland.