While families throughout the nation are gathered around the table giving thanks this week, they are taking for granted an essential part of the holiday – the feast.
Much like the pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving, many local youth go hungry without the assistance of their neighbors, such as school meal programs, church outreach events and generosity of community servants.
Despite living in the most fertile agricultural Valley in the world, the San Joaquin Valley has one of highest rates of food insecurity, especially among people under the age of 18. Darin Pace Principal of Kaweah High School (KHS) in Exeter, said the majority of his students are economically disadvantaged and may not have the privilege of a traditional Thanksgiving meal, or even a meal with family for the holidays.
“Even just sitting down for a meal with others and talking politely is an experience for some of our students,” Pace said. “Just watching their language and being more careful, everything is a teaching moment and a learning experience.”
But there was no shortage of food in front of students earlier this week when the Optimist Club of Exeter served its annual Thanksgiving meal at KHS. The annual feast featured all the fixin’s including shredded turkey and mashed potatoes covered in gravy, fluffy stuffing, green beans, dinner rolls and, of course, pumpkin pie for dessert. Students politely asked for platefuls of food as they passed down the line of Optimist Club members ready to serve up lunch. And just as quickly as they requested the food, they followed up with thank you. Students, staff and community members sat across from each other, talking about the weather, school and the future.
“I’m so grateful for the Optimist Club because without them this setting would never exist,” Pace said.
This was one of the largest groups to ever share Thanksgiving at the continuation high school, with more than 50 students eating outside on the warm November day. Students in Beth Micari’s floral arrangement class made centerpieces with fall colored flowers that then served as party gifts as floral topped pens.
“This is the first time we have done this outside and I really liked everyone sitting together on nice day like today,” Pace said.
Just a few days prior to the KHS Thanksgiving, the Optimist Club provided a festive feast for students at Deep Creek Academy in Farmersville. Students shared plates of food with Optimist Club members who asked about their post high school plans, their impressions of the continuation high school and encouraged them to apply for the Optimist Club scholarship in the spring. The club offers a part-time and full-time scholarship to eligible students who score well on the application process and enroll in community college, certification programs or trade schools.
“These are people from Exeter, who don’t live in your community, yet support you in more ways than you know,” said DCA Principal Lupe Perez. “It’s important that you know these people aren’t family, they don’t work for the school district, and yet they come here and support you.”
Similar to a family gathering for a round of board games, Margaret Salazar, educational consultant for AdvancePath Academies, led a Thanksgiving-themed trivia game where students could win gift cards to Little Caesars Pizza in Farmersville.