2014-11-28 / Front Page

Not your everyday school lunch

Eighth-graders host their annual community Thanksgiving meal
By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer


Guests and students walk the length of the dessert table holding a variety of homemade sweets that were baked and donated by eighth-grade students for the annual community Thanksgiving meal at Middle School of the Kennebunks. Biddeford Savings Bank subsidized the meal, which feeds about 500, including eighth-grade students and teachers. Employees from Biddeford Savings Bank, pictured at right, volunteered to serve dessert. 
(Alex Acquisto photo) Guests and students walk the length of the dessert table holding a variety of homemade sweets that were baked and donated by eighth-grade students for the annual community Thanksgiving meal at Middle School of the Kennebunks. Biddeford Savings Bank subsidized the meal, which feeds about 500, including eighth-grade students and teachers. Employees from Biddeford Savings Bank, pictured at right, volunteered to serve dessert. (Alex Acquisto photo) KENNEBUNK – “I like coming to these because I like people; I’m a people person,” Florence Summer Hayes said Wednesday, Nov. 19 while in the cafeteria at Middle School of the Kennebunks.

She, along with about 300 other elderly guests, had just finished enjoying the fixings from the annual community Thanksgiving dinner hosted by eighth-grade students.

What began as a brunch in the late-1980s for older area residents has evolved into a full-fledged meal, organized and executed by eighthgrade students and teachers.


Florence Summer Hayes and eighthgrade student, Lazarus Pierce, pose for a picture after their Thanksgiving meal last Wednesday at Middle School of the Kennebunks. Hayes is a resident of Atria Assisted Living in Kennebunk. This was her second time attending the holiday event. (Alex Acquisto photo) Florence Summer Hayes and eighthgrade student, Lazarus Pierce, pose for a picture after their Thanksgiving meal last Wednesday at Middle School of the Kennebunks. Hayes is a resident of Atria Assisted Living in Kennebunk. This was her second time attending the holiday event. (Alex Acquisto photo) Each advisory class, which is similar to a homeroom, is given set tasks to complete before or during the meal: designing and sending out invitations, planning the menu and organizing table arrangements.

The students serve the dinner, which consists of holiday basics such as turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, peas and a roll.

“One group is responsible for greeting the guests, one group is responsible for serving,” said Mary McCarthy, an art teacher at MSK who organizes the event.

Some students may invite grandparents or neighbors, but most of the guests and their hosts have not met before they sit down and share a meal.

Because the meal is focused on community, the students scatter across the cafeteria, ensuring that each visitor is able to sit and converse with at least one student.

Contrary to popular belief, McCarthy said, the students and elderly guests typically do not have trouble communicating.

“Senior citizens and eighth-graders are very much alike,” McCarthy said. “Both generations love to talk and socialize, both generations care about what they look like, and both generations like to sit with their friends.”

To facilitate conversations and help students learn about their guests, handouts are present at each table with questions like, “How did your family celebrate Thanksgiving when you were a child?”

A bounty of desserts was arranged on several long tables at the back of the cafeteria.

Baked by the students or their families, guests could choose from a variety of pies, cakes, cookies and cupcakes. Volunteers from the Kennebunk branch of Biddeford Savings Bank helped serve.

Biddeford Savings Bank has been funding the holiday event for three years.

“They wanted something they could sponsor year after year, McCarthy said.

The meal typically costs between $1,500 and $2,000. Biddeford Savings Bank President Rhonda Hebert reached out to teachers and administrators in 2011, just as funds became tight, McCarthy said.

“They saved us. They saved the dinner,” McCarthy said.

For those students who are not accustomed to talking to people of a different age or donating their time, the meal is a perfect opportunity for them to step out of their comfort zone while in a safe, familiar place.

“We’re trying to encourage our kids to get more involved in the community and in community service,” McCarthy said.

Most of the guests are residents of local assisted living homes, like Atria Assisted Living in Kennebunk, and some have been attending the holiday meal for a few years.

The meal is made all the more special because, said McCarthy, “We have several who come because it is their only Thanksgiving.”

For student Caitlin Whalen, the Thanksgiving meal was an event she and her classmates looked forward to planning.

“Once you’re in eighth grade, you realize how good of a thing it is to do for the community,” said Whalen, who is in Sharon Greenglass’ advisory class.

Greenglass’s students were charged during the event to serve coffee, tea and food, and to stay after the guests had left to clean the cafeteria.

“I was really surprised and excited by how much the students were involved in preparing everything,” Whalen said.

As guests placed their leftovers into containers and exchanged high-spirited goodbyes, Hayes shook hands with her dining companion, student Lazarus Pierce. “It was a pleasure to meet you,” Pierce said to Hayes.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” responded Hayes.

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