BURRILLVILLE – The line of guests weaved through the massive banquet hall, past dozens of long tables set for lunch, with each seat accounted for.

More than 350 people turned out for Burrillville Aging Stronger’s winter Lunch & Learn event on Thursday, Feb. 6, a chance to gain knowledge about services available for the town’s aging population, while also enjoying a free meal.

Around a dozen vendors took part in the event, handing out schwag and talking to guests.

The popular events are the product of an effort that began in 2018 to improve quality life for Burrillville residents ages 55 and older. A collaboration between many local organizations that offer services and resources, Burrillville Aging Stronger now works to connect residents with information –  and it seems few things attract a curious crowd as well as Wright’s Restaurant family-style chicken.

While some of the organizers have been involved since the start, others have joined after witnessing the success of the events.

“Pascoag Utility became involved after being a vendor at the first event and seeing what a unique opportunity it was for residents of Burrillville to come together to learn and socialize,” said Desarae Dolan supervisor of administration for PUD. “As a public power utility, we’re excited to play an active role in the community we serve and to educate residents on energy efficiency and conservation.”

Lisa Rabideau, court clerk and administrative assistant to the chief for the Burrillville Police Department, was among those involved since the idea of becoming more “age friendly,” in Burrillville was just a conversation.

“I can say that the town manager was instrumental in encouraging the formation of this committee, and has been extremely supportive of the initiative every step of the way,” said Rabideau.

Now, hundreds show up for the opportunity to enjoy a lunch, win raffle items and hear from local vendors.

On Thursday, guests grabbed free tote bags to fill with information from groups including the Burrillville Land Trust, and ATEL – an organization that provides devices for those hearing, speech or neurologically impaired. Visitors learned about tickets to performances at the Assembly Theatre, and services offered by United Health Care.

All vendors are asked to donate a raffle item, and diners had a chance to win gift baskets, a magnified hearing telephone, or gift cards to places including IGA and Wright’s Dairy. Local businesses also contributed items, adding to the pot of roughly 20 raffle prizes.

At a table run by Jesse Smith Memorial Library,  various pamphlets laid out programs, transportation and other services offered through the town.

“The slogan of our library is ‘Cornerstone of the Community,” explained Library Director Beth Ullucci. “The library strives to be an integral and vibrant center for our community.  Partnering with other town departments to improve the lives of Burrillville residents is important to fulfilling this slogan.” 

“The Lunch and Learn events are a fun way to get information out to seniors in our community,” Ullucci added. “We love working with the amazing committee formed to make these events so special.”

Rabideau noted that 400 guests RSVP’d to this week’s event, but inclement weather kept some home. Thirty residents utilize free transportation provided by the town with Public Works employees Jim Howard, Allan McCutcheon and Ray Rabitaille driving a bus and two town cars to both housing complexes and private homes.

Parks and Recreation Director Andrea Hall said that surveys handed out at Lunch & Learn events will be used to help plan future programming.

“It has been such an awesome experience to personally get to know residents and has been an instrumental way to obtain feedback and suggestions,” said Hall. “Personally the Lunch and Learn events have become one of my favorite events to participate in.  Everyone is so happy, it’s a great way to get information from, and give information to residents, and it’s just a lot of fun.”

Hall recently submitted a grant application to the Levy Foundation on behalf of the committee in hopes to help pay for the events, and is looking into other grant opportunities.

“We receive so many comments from the residents who love this event and can’t wait for the next one,” said Rabideau. “One of the vendors today told us that this was absolutely the best event like this she has ever attended.”

It’s all part of the Burrillville Aging Stronger mission statement: to develop and coordinate programs which improve the health and well-being of Burrillville’s aging community.

“We recognize the value of all of our citizens, and we are committed to enhancing the quality of life for Burrillville residents, aged fifty-five and older, by providing resources, education, transportation and recreational activities,” the mission statement explains.

“It’s a pretty special thing to be a part of, and I am honored to be able to help,” said Rabideau.

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