Gratitude, good food at Thanksgiving banquet

Nov 24, 2019

As it has for 29 years, Thanksgiving came early for 250 tri-town seniors who visited the Old Rochester Regional Junior High School to take part in its Thanksgiving Banquet on Nov. 24. 

The event brings together students, school staff, community vendors and seniors. Students make up the bulk of the volunteers, with 65 of them helping to set up the day before, serving at the banquet and making 75 to 100 meals to go. On the day of the event, 12 cafeteria staff members also volunteered to prepare the meal.  Local vendors donated over 100 items as door prizes for seniors.

At this point, the event has history, and has been part of the school’s calendar longer than the staff members who started it. 

“Most of the teachers who had been here that long have retired in the last few years,” explained Julie Taylor, the eighth grade guidance counselor who helped coordinate the event. 

“For me, [coordinating] was about giving back to the senior citizens who have supported the junior high school through the years. This community values education and has always supported the school district to make sure every child receives the best possible education. The seniors in the community are a big part of that,” Taylor said, adding that “this is one way we can thank them.”

Though it’s tougher now to ask the event’s founders about their thinking, Taylor suspects that teachers help out with the event for similar reasons. 

“As educators we try to be role models, particularly around service to others and giving back to the community. I think if you ask past coordinators, their reasons would be similar,” Taylor said. 

Among students, the event is an essential part of middle school. 

“It's just a great event that is now a revered tradition for 8th graders to volunteer for. People just want to be part of it,” Taylor explained. 

And she was quick to shift the credit from her efforts as coordinator to, well, everyone. 

“Although there is a coordinator, it really is a group effort,” Taylor said. “All the behind-the-scenes work the teachers do by setting up the cafeteria and decorating it so beautifully, as well as donating door prizes and pies, and helping out the day of the event, make the banquet a success. And truly the unsung heroes are the cafeteria staff who do all the cooking.”

Though Principal Silas Coellner doesn’t serve as the event’s lead, he takes pride in his school’s effort. 

“I can’t say how proud I am of staff and students,” said Junior High School Principal Silas Coellner at remarks on Nov. 24. He also thanked guests “for braving the rain to get here.”

Superintendent Doug White wished participants a Happy Thanksgiving, and said the banquet was one of favorite events each year, because he appreciates “how it is enjoyed by the community.”

He explained that working in an event of that scale taught students many of the skills that the school prioritizes, including project-based learning, critical thinking, problem solving and communication.

He passed on his thanks to donors, kitchen staff and custodians, and joked to seniors that “maybe I’ll join you on that side next year,” after retiring. 

Eighth grader Theo Jacobson thanked White and the banquet’s participants for the generosity and kindness they had shown throughout the years.

One table of residents had varied responses to why they came. One said he came every year because being around young people is nice, another because the food was always good, and a third because the students always do a fantastic job of serving.