The Absecon Ladies League started its annual Senior Appreciation Dinners in 1974 as a way to give thanks to the city's seniors for their work in making Absecon a great place to live.

Even as the league's ranks have turned over and new generations have reached their golden years, the event has remained popular, typically drawing more than 100 for food and fun. The 30th annual dinner, held March 3 at the Absecon Methodist Church on Pitney Road, was the best-attended event in years, said league member and event co-chair Donna Poley.

"People love it," Poley said. "Right now we're at 144. This year is one of our highest in years. We had like 120 last year, so it's wonderful."

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Seniors who attended were served a Thanksgiving-style meal featuring oven-roasted turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy and cranberry sauce. They were also served rolls donated by Baker Boys in Atlantic City and pies donated by ShopRite of Absecon.

The dinner, prepared by McGettigan's 19th Hole in Galloway Township, was provided at no cost to the attendees, thanks to the fundraising efforts of the Ladies League and to donations from dozens of community members and businesses like the First National Bank of Absecon and Sack O' Subs.

In addition to the meals, attendees were entertained by local senior musical group the Sentimental Songsters and played bingo for cash prizes.

Elaine Risley, attending her third such dinner, said she enjoys going to the dinners as a way to catch up with friends she's known for decades.

"I've lived here all my life, and I enjoy seeing everybody," Risley said. "It's a fun time."

Seniors were served at the dinner by the sons and daughters of Ladies League members.

Kelsey Poley, Donna's daughter, has volunteered at the event for a few years. She said she enjoys helping out because the seniors are so thankful.

"I like serving them because they're very nice. They appreciate it," Poley said.

Each year the Absecon Ladies League honors one special guest as its Citizen of the Year, and its 2013 honoree was recently retired Absecon Mayor Pete Elco, who decided not to pursue re-election last year after six terms and 24 years in office.

Elco said receiving the honor from an organization such as the Ladies League, which holds several programs a year to benefit the community, was meaningful.

"I was honored to have received it from the Absecon Ladies League, especially because of their commitment in a volunteer capacity," Elco said. "It certainly has made a positive difference in a lot of people's lives over the years."

The league raffled off a picture of old-time Absecon donated by Stan Weiner, of Hometown Variety, at the dinner. The raffle raised $194, which will be given to a family in need to be determined at the league's next meeting in April, Poley said.

The seniors who attend the dinner are very appreciative, often expressing their thanks through donations to the Ladies League at the dinner or through notes sent after the fact. It's that thanks, Poley said, that makes her group's work worthwhile.

"I think we put on a good show, and when they come here, they're like, 'This is always so beautiful,'" Poley said. "We're happy to do this for them, it makes them happy, and that's what I think this is about."

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