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In 1917, Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States, World War I began, the cost of a loaf of bread was 9 cents — and the first-ever meeting of the Lions Club took place in Dallas, Texas.

Today, in its centennial year, the Lions Club has over 46,000 local clubs and more than 1.4 million members in over 200 countries around the world. It’s a service organization focused on engaging youth, protecting the environment, vision screening, relieving hunger, diabetes prevention and pediatric cancer support.

“So far, as an organization, we have served 159,185,438 people,” said Lori Beninson, one of the club’s chairs.

The New Fairfield Chapter is 65 years old. There are currently 40 to 45 full-time members, according to Mark Lamanna, the New Fairfield Lion Club’s vice president. Rick Salem is its president.

The club meets at Biscotti’s restaurant in New Fairfield on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. Prospective members are welcome.

It hosts 15 events every year including a senior spring luncheon, senior picnic, breakfast with Santa and a car show featuring antique cars.

“At the car show last year, which was at Squantz Pond, about 300 people came from around greater Connecticut area. People bring their cars and judges pick out winners from 20 to 25 different categories,” Lamanna said. “There is a lot of camaraderie.”

In November, on Veterans Day, “we serve hot dogs and drinks for the entire community,” he added. “It’s held at Veterans Park and a few hundred people show up,” he added.

Additional ways the New Fairfield Lions Club serves the community is by conducting pediatric vision screening in its public and private schools, and donating money to the New Fairfield Social Services Department and food and fuel banks to help its neighbors, according to Benison.

“We donate money to the Volunteer Fire Department and have a support fund available for disasters. We bring holiday baskets and food donations to the area shelter. We are the charter organization that supports our scouting units. We support programs and playgrounds in the public schools and provide scholarships for our graduates,” she added.

“At the December Breakfast with Santa, held in the New Fairfield High School cafeteria, Santa comes and we serve breakfast for the young kids. They sit on Santa’s lap. We also take part in the New Fairfield Tree Lighting ceremony,” Lamanna said.

All the Lions Club’s fundraising events benefit the community and those less fortunate.

Lamanna said that to him, the club is very fulfilling and fun in many ways — especially with the seniors. “When you put on the events for the seniors, they love it. They have a great time and I have a great time with them,” he said.

Beninson said what she feels makes the club special is that it’s all-inclusive. “The Lions and their families are passionate about serving our local community and making New Fairfield a great hometown for everyone,” she said.

Other club activities include this past week’s Fourth of July Parade and the upcoming Old Tyme Summer Carnival. “Our parade is the best in the State of Connecticut. Everyone lines up to celebrate the holiday as a big family. The carnival has the amazing food and fun for everyone. There are great bands every night,” Beninson said.

     The Lions Club is open to anyone, she emphasized “There are no minimum service requirements. Come and help at one event or all. Make it a family affair and help us develop the next generation of caring communities,” she said. She said she has always enjoyed being a Lion. “There is such a satisfaction about being able to be part of a group that takes such pride in the success of helping people and having a great time doing it.”

     For more information on the New Fairfield Lions Club, visit http://www.e-clubhouse.org/sites/newfairfieldct/index.ph.

By Sandra Diamond Fox