While people gather around their Thanksgiving meal with little more than family and turkey in mind, many others will go without a holiday feast this year.

There are 20,000 food insecure individuals in Chittenden County, according to Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf spokeswoman Anna McMahon.

“They don’t know where their next meal is coming from, or they don’t have access to healthy food on a daily basis,” she said.

With this in mind, the Colchester High School Cares club hosted its annual Thanksgiving food drive. The event involves collecting donations, packing and delivering 25 baskets with holiday meals for food insecure families in the school district, according to CHS Cares faculty leader and social worker Kerry Shearman. It’s been a CHS Cares staple for over a decade.

The club’s members fill baskets with everything from turkey to vegetables, dessert and even centerpieces crafted by students. Additionally, the group solicits non-perishable donations so recipients can stretch their meals beyond Turkey Day. A large number of families depend on the district’s free and reduced lunch to nourish their children, so it can be challenging to feed them over the break, Shearman said.

“We sort of see [non-perishable donations] as a way to help offset some of the costs for the whole week,” she said, adding it allows families to enjoy each others’ company without the stress of finding extra cash to cook a special meal.

The group works from August until Thanksgiving to plan the event and coordinate donations from district families and community partners. Additionally, Shearman and her students host a bake sale to raise funds to purchase the birds. CHS Cares then buys any food items it is unable to secure from donations, ensuring all 25 families have a cornucopia of goods.

“My final goal is that we have 25 boxes and that we can feel good giving these families some things to make the holidays feel a little less stressful,” Shearman said.

Last Saturday, families and students gathered to assemble and deliver the baskets. According to Shearman, it’s the best part of the project.

“For me, as a social worker, there’s a lot of times when I can’t help,” she said. “But this is like a tangible thing you can do to feel good.”

She hopes her students learn to think altruistically through their efforts.

CHS senior Paige Paradise helped assemble baskets last Saturday. She’s been a member of CHS Cares for three years and a volunteer for the Thanksgiving food drive since she was in middle school. This year, she helped motivate her peers to donate—it’s the most challenging part of the fundraiser, she said.

Paradise asks her peers to help however they can. She tells them anything from a can of green beans to volunteering their time for the event aids the community. There’s a reward for their efforts, too: making someone else’s holiday bright.

“They’re usually very grateful and happy,” Paradise said of the recipients. “They always have a smile on their face.”

 

The CHS library was noisier than usual as Shearman, students, faculty and adult volunteers bustled about making Thanksgiving feasts a reality for those who might otherwise go without.

“It’s important to help people around us,” Shearman said.

While the baskets have been delivered as of the Colchester Sun’s deadline this week, CHS Cares accepts monetary donations throughout the year to offset the cost of goods the club purchased with its own funds. Checks may be made out to Colchester High School with ‘CHS Cares’ on the memo line.