Columbia Town Center Rotary Club presented its annual Valentine’s Gala on Saturday evening, Feb. 10 at the Columbia Town Center Sheraton. The gala is the Columbia Town Center Rotary Club’s main fundraiser of the year and was attended by more than 150 people.

The Gala included a cocktail hour with classical guitarist, buffet dinner, dancing and a silent auction of more than 50 items to raise money for local charities.

At this year’s event, revelers included singles and couples from their 20s through their 80s dancing to the sounds of the Washington, D.C. band, NightLife.

“We started the gala eight years ago,” said Sharon Waligora, event chairperson. “It was fun and successful then, and it gets better every year.” This event enables the Columbia Town Center Rotary to support more than 20 charitable organizations in the community.

The fundraiser also allows the Columbia Town Center Rotary to recognize a Howard County citizen who exemplifies the Rotary motto, “Service above self.” This year’s honor went to Julie Rosenthal, founder of Food on the 15th, a program through which Howard County students both collect and distribute groceries to senior citizens who find themselves, halfway through their monthly Social Security benefit, in need of help to make ends meet.

In 2006, Rosenthal wanted to teach her daughter about the plight of the less fortunate and how to give back to the community; fast-forwarding 11 years, the nonprofit has grown into an organization that has provided more than 25,000 bags of free groceries to senior citizens in Howard County.
Joining Rosenthal were family and friends, to whom she gave many thanks during her acceptance remarks. She was especially thankful to her own parents’ community engagement, which provided her with the inspiration to serve and help those in need.

Alvin Thompson, club president, and Valerie Lash, master of ceremonies, expressed that “it takes a lot work and support to create this gala and make this fundraiser successful. Thank you to our guests for coming. Thank you to our sponsors for their financial backing. Thank you to the individuals and businesses that graciously contributed to our silent auction. Thank you to the Sheraton Columbia Town Center Hotel for [its] support. Thank you to other club Rotarians for their support. Thank you to Julie Rosenthal for her great example. You all have enabled our Rotary club to make a difference in the community.”

To learn more about the Columbia Town Center Rotary and the organizations it supports, visit; to learn more about Food on the 15th, visit