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Even as they were attending a banquet Thursday afternoon honoring them for thousands of hours of volunteer work, members of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program were giving back to the community.

During the volunteer appreciation event at the Elks Lodge, a basket made its way through the crowd of 250 people to gather donations for a Billings man who lost his home and all of his possessions in a fire earlier this week. In less than two hours, they collected more than $350.

“It’s all about celebrating the good work of a group of people that are so willing to support the community in a variety of ways,” said Pam Makara, RSVP program director.

RSVP is a program of the Yellowstone County Council on Aging that connects retired and senior citizens with volunteer opportunities. There are about 600 active members in Yellowstone County. Last fiscal year, they volunteered nearly 110,000 hours to dozens of groups, businesses and events.

“They’re out making a measurable impact in the community,” Makara said. “This community would be at a loss without this group.”

At the banquet, about 250 of those volunteers were treated to food, fresh cookies, lots of appreciation and a little entertainment. Pat McAllister, who has either worked or volunteered for the program since the mid-1970s, rewrote the lyrics to Gene Autry’s “Back in the Saddle Again” to match RSVP activities.

Board members from Council on Aging, volunteers and other officials sang the song together, to plenty of laughs from the audience.

“There’s just so much purpose”, said McAllister, who volunteers with local hospitals and the Billings Visitor Information Center. “It’s just fun to do and a lot of times people don’t get enough appreciation.

It also gives many retirees the chance to stay active in the community. Keith Wallace, a Council on Aging board member, volunteers with the Boy Scouts of America and the Senior Corps of Retired Executives. A former accountant, he also helps people with their taxes.

“It fits a person that’s mature with a need in the community,” he said.

Makara agreed.

“We live in a culture that is very scheduled, and sometimes when people retire, they might lose some purpose,” she said. “RSVP keeps people active, social and healthy. This says to you that people need people.”