… and the normalcy is schools is finally returning.
Granted some schools in NJ are still cleaning up, some are trying to figure out how to make up days lost, but, to be selfish, I was most happy to see so many schools maintain the tradition of the annual Thanksgiving Dinner in both the classroom and cafeteria. For my entire educational career, and most likely for the rest of my career, the ‘Thanksgiving Dinner’ served in school cafeterias is by far the most scrumptious meal of the year.
When I first began teaching, I worked in a parochial school of around 300 students. The staff took this meal so seriously that the kitchen workers showed up to work at 3:30 AM to fire up the ovens and start cooking turkeys and all of the fixings. Families were invited to eat with students, teachers brought in some of their favorite sides, and the Principal stood at the helm carving away. Some saw it as chaotic; others ate like they have never eaten before. It was one of my favorite memories of working there.
In my other schools districts since, I have happily collaborated with cafeteria staff and faculty to create the same experience. With the recently revised food guidelines for schools, we had to get a bit creative with some of the foods, but that was the least of my concerns after this evil storm by the name of Sandy came along.
Several schools now have displaced students in them; some staff members were still living in hotels, and that normalcy of gathering around a table in your home to celebrate with family was simply not there. As an Administrator, I see my school as a family, and in times like these, I need to create those positive family moments where I can. So in addition to getting my school back to normal in routines and classes, I was determined to have that Thanksgiving Dinner.
The first goal was to keep this as simple / normal as possible, so having the dinner during cafeteria times was critical. I did not want any more instructional time to be compromised. Next, I sent out an email with a link to a survey to see what families would be interested in attending and who would be up for donating some supplies or foods (the catch with foods – they needed to be recipes that the Nurses approved, all allergy-free for the student/faculty body). After seeing such a strong response, it was easy to sit with my cafeteria manager and discuss our game-plan. It was simple: serve a Thanksgiving-like lunch (while offering the traditional school lunch alternatives). We were lucky, as much of the items were ordered before the storm, and our freezers didn’t lose power. We were even luckier, as it was still possible to make many of our meal items from scratch (often difficult to do in with 1000 people to feed)! I advised her that there will be a side table that students / Staff can approach for additional side dishes and desserts, which would be manned by parent volunteers. With everything set, we were ready to rock-n-roll.
The meal was served yesterday without a hitch. The amount of excitement from students, staff, and parents was barely containable. The food was spectacular, the parental support was amazing, and most importantly, my family of students and staff were given smiles, laughs, and full bellies…all apart of Thanksgiving.
You can’t take that away from us, Sandy!