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Community of Character giving awards at luncheon

Honorees are volunteers who make Pleasanton a better place

The Juanita Haugen Awards Luncheon on Wednesday will recognize this year's recipients, who are being recognized for exhibiting the values of the Community of Character.

Chosen for the honor this year are Bruce Bird, Gary Howell, Ruth McAninch and Open Heart Kitchen.

Bruce Bird's life revolves around his family, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and community service. As a church leader, he has been involved in American Red Cross blood drives, Open Heart Kitchen, East Bay Stand Down, Dublin Pride and other service projects.

Bird has served on city committees and as project manager for the Amador Valley Athletic Boosters snack bar, built with volunteer labor. He is currently chairman of the Alameda County Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, which promotes emergency preparedness and coordinates relief efforts between agencies. And he serves on the board of Open Heart Kitchen.

He has also served on the Community of Character scholarship committee.

After he suffered a stroke in 1998, Gary Howell decided to sell his business and give back to the community where he had lived for 42 years. He has volunteered with Spectrum Community Services' Meals on Wheels for the past 15 years, delivering to seniors who are homebound, many with chronic illnesses, mobility issues, dementia and loneliness.

"He's someone I know I can always count on when I need him," said Rachel Carpender of Spectrum Community Services. "He brings a level of compassion, respect and kindness to the other volunteers and the seniors on our program."

Howell also volunteers at Stanford Health Care-ValleyCare Medical Center once a week.

Ruth McAninch retired after 30 years as an air traffic controller in 2012 and signed up for Leadership Pleasanton in 2013.

She was involved in the startup of Blue Oaks Church and has led its efforts to serve the community, working closely with Pleasanton Unified School District to provide Christmas gifts for those in need, and to help with the Hanger, a vocational skills classroom.

McAninch helps out in senior centers, assisted living centers, Open Heart Kitchen and Kids Against Hunger, which distributes nutritious meals to starving children around the world.

"She's not just the most generous person I know, she's irrationally generous," said Pastor Matt VanCleave. "She gives until it hurts. As for kindness, she embodies the word."

Open Heart Kitchen was the culmination of years of work by the interfaith community of the Tri-Valley, residents and city officials who saw the rising tide of hunger in our communities and wanted to respond.

Since its official inception in 1995, Open Heart Kitchen has been committed to finding resources -- staffing, financial supporters, facilities and volunteers -- to find creative ways to push back against hunger in Pleasanton, Dublin and Livermore.

The organization serves hot meals free-of-charge at sites in those three cities, free meals to students through its bag lunch program and discounted meals for senior citizens at senior center sites -- in all, more than 350,000 meals a year with volunteers from the Tri-Valley.

Juanita Haugen, who inspired the annual awards, co-founded the Pleasanton Community of Character in the belief that part of the city's success is due to residents who volunteer and exhibit the traits of responsibility, compassion, self-discipline, honesty, respect and integrity.

This year's luncheon will take place at 11:30 a.m., Wednesday at the Pleasanton Veterans Memorial Building. It is open to the public, and the cost is $35. Make reservations online at the Chamber of Commerce website, www.pleasanton.org.

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