‘Miracles Banquet’ creates a buffet of love for people in need

The offerings at the special event included a three-course meal, health screenings, haircuts and personal care items.
Published December 18 2018
Updated December 20 2018

UNIVERSITY AREA — Bojean Lane smiled at her face in the mirror as Mary Kay cosmetics representative Sarah Scinta applied makeup.

She wanted to look nice for the I Believe in Miracles Banquet, given Sunday for 300 homeless individuals at the University Area Community Center. And Lane, 51, hoped that through the event, she might meet someone to help her get more work.

“I’m homeless but staying at a friend who secured a place,” said Lane who does catering work and odd jobs. “My friend got a flyer and I thought I would come and see what they offered.”

What the free event offered was a three-course meal, health screenings, haircuts, gifts, personal care items and inspiration — all donated and staged with the aid of about 100 volunteers.

Paulette Rolle-Alesnik, the University Area CDC’s Prodigy Moves manager, organized the event. She oversees the outreach portion of the youth arts program, and started the annual event in 2007 in her home. The center hosted the event the last four times.

“My faith teaches me to help other people, to pay attention to people in need,” she said.

A naturalized U.S. citizen, Rolle-Alesnik was raised and trained in theater in the Bahamas. She moved to the United States in 1992 and attended the University of South Florida for two years for additional training. When she started work at the center 3 1/2 years ago, she became more aware of the low-income area.

“The need is here. You can’t walk around without seeing it,” she said.

Rolle-Alesnik suggested the dinner to the center’s CEO, Sarah Combs, and she “opened the doors and it has kept growing.”

Combs said the center wants to “shed some light on the homeless issue we have in this community.” This year, the it collected more information on the attendees than in the past.

“We need to figure out how to help - not just for a day but how to get them back on their feet,” Combs said.

Volunteers served food, prepared by Orange Blossom Catering, and hosted tables.

“Your table is your house,” said Rolle-Alesnik in giving instructions. “They are coming to your house. Keep the conversation positive and keep it going.”

Volunteers cheered and waved pompons to greet the guests entering the center’s gymnasium that was set for the banquet.

Some volunteers represented organizations including Danielle Terrazas of Helping Hands Ministries, who worked in a “boutique” section with clothes for men, women and children. She said attendees sought heavy coats, underwear and socks.

Others came from businesses, including Scinta.

“I love helping other people; it is a way of serving God,” she said.

And some were individuals like Heather Lamourex of Brandon, who heard about the event and wanted to help.

“I called and jumped right in,” she said.

Lamourex contacted the Bloomingdale Wal-Mart, which gave her a price break on 400 pairs of shoes she bought so that every guest could leave with a pair. The store also donated 180 gift bags.

Such gifts were a help to many including Jerrozz Brooks had just gotten out of jail for being in the middle of a domestic situation where he said he was only trying to help. His belongings were thrown away during the time.

“What I have on is what I have,” he said.

Steve Hopper, an inspirational motivation speaker, served as the event’s emcee.

In offering a blessing, he prayed for the guests saying they “are going through tough times. Open the doors necessary for them for joy, happiness, peace and prosperity.”

Children and teens also helped serving pork and gravy, stewed beef, chicken, several kinds of rice, three salads and cake.

Alina Huff, 9, who worked with her 12-year-old sister, Elisa, said, “The homeless deserve to be treated and served just like we are.”

Contact Lenora Lake at hillsnews@tampabay.com.