It’s all smiles at this Valentine’s Day banquet

MONROE — It isn’t quite like any other Valentine’s Day dinner in the county.
A little more than 120 guests will eat, dance and be merry. People will reacquaint with old friends, and maybe make a keepsake to take home.
The servers are volunteers of all ages, and the cooks know they’re contributing to a community that the coronavirus pandemic put further at risk of being left behind.
It’s a celebration.
It’s the revival of the Valentine’s Day Banquet for adults with disabilities.
And it’s on.
Eagle Wings Ministries of Marysville arranges the guest list. The nonprofit’s goal is to help people with developmental disabilities keep up a social life, and to be treated with a sense of belonging.
Dan and Tamra Erickson of Snohomish help coordinate the event.
The ministry has get-togethers for nearly every holiday, but the Valentine’s Day dinner is one of its bigger ones, Kinder Smoots said.
Many of the dinner attendees know each other, but don’t get the chance to always hang out.
The two hours spent here can make their week, Smoots overheard a caregiver say.
Dan Erickson first volunteered with the dinner years ago. Now, his whole family’s involved, as well as friends.
“There’s so much joy in the room,” Tamra Erickson said.
The dinner takes place in a large hall loaned by a Monroe church. Volunteers prepare the food in the kitchen.
The guests are greeted, then seated. This year, lasagna is the main course ­— some 20 to 25 lasagnas to feed everyone.
There is a photo booth because people do not always have photos of themselves.
After the meal, the tables are pushed back to make room for the dance floor.
The event gives caregivers a much-needed break, too.
Smoots started volunteering at Eagle Wings in 2003. Today, she is its executive director.
Eagle Wings calls its get-togethers celebrations “to celebrate each person’s God-given dignity,” Smoots said.
The pandemic cramped its activities. Before 2020, Eagle Wings was holding 40 or more events a year.
Eagle Wings reaches out to people through group homes, caregiver agencies and developmental service workers. People hail from Duvall to Gold Bar to north county.
Dignity is baked into recognizing people with impairments still have capabilities. People belong in schools, in workplaces and in public, Smoots said. Not long ago, people with Down syndrome, severe autism, cerebral palsy, and other developmental disabilities faced little acceptance; some were shoved into institutions.
The group does not proselytize, but is rooted in service.
“We do what we do because of the Christian faith, but we welcome everybody,” Smoots said.
The dinner is from 4 to 6 p.m. at a Monroe church for invited guests only. It ends at 6 p.m. so the guests can catch transportation back as some travel on dial-a-ride transit.
There is an online fundraiser to support the dinner. To contribute, see