‘Friends, family and food’ at the 30th annual Thanksgiving dinner

Nov 19, 2023

MATTAPOISETT — Anyone who has hosted a Thanksgiving dinner knows that it’s a lot of work. And for the volunteers who put on the 30th annual Thanksgiving Dinner for Tri-Town seniors, that work began months ago.

From ordering ingredients to decorating tables and preparing food, the entire Old Rochester Regional School District chipped in to make this event happen.

“It’s a big undertaking,” said Old Rochester Regional Junior High School Administrative Assistant Toni Bailey, who led the effort to organize the event.

On Sunday, Nov. 19, all that hard work paid off as 170 hungry senior citizens from across the Tri-Town arrived at the Old Rochester Junior High School cafeteria to celebrate the holiday with their community.

As diners took their seats at decorated tables, a contingent of seventh and eighth grade volunteers made their way around the room bringing plates piled high with Thanksgiving favorites.

Many of the student volunteers “have never done anything like this,” said Bailey, who noted that this is the first time in her 12 years running the event that seventh graders have been allowed to volunteer.

“We’ve made this more of a community service,” she said. “There were more seventh graders than eighth graders helping this year.”

Seventh grade students Elena Villafranca, 12, and Claire Habicht, 12, served food during Sunday’s dinner.

Villafranca said she volunteered because “it always brings a smile to my face when I help other people … Especially around the holidays you should always give as much kindness as you can.”

Habicht added that “it’s important to be involved in the school community.”

And the school community is more than just teachers and students, said Assistant Superintendent Howie Barber, who highlighted the hard work of the school district’s facilities and food service staff.

“It is such a Thanksgiving event that all the staff that comes in here are volunteering their own time,” said Barber. “Nobody is asking for additional compensation, it’s because they’re so willing to give to the community.”

Behind the scenes, Food and Nutrition Services Director Jill Henesey made sure everything ran smoothly in the kitchen.

And facility member Shi Major volunteered her time to keep the rest of the operation running like a well-oiled machine, said Barber.

“The preparation of ordering and getting all [the food takes] about two months,” said Henesey, who was at the school at 6:30 a.m. to prepare the day’s meal. “We make sure we have all the products necessary and the leeway to make sure they all get here in time.”

In addition to preparing dine-in meals, Henesey and her team prepared 62 take-home meals for seniors who couldn’t eat in person.

Donna Smith, who attended Sunday’s meal “with [her] friends from the Mattapoisett Council on Aging,” was looking forward to enjoying the “three f’s: Friends, family and food.”

And with a big plate of food — and as the winner of a Dunkin’ gift card from the event’s door raffle — she got all that and more.