WHITMAN – A return to traditions – with a tweak or two here and there – marked two of the town’s pre-Thanksgiving celebrations, as Conley students shared a socially distant gift with the Whitman Food Pantry, and the Knights of Columbus returned to an in-person holiday luncheon for seniors.
As the COVID-19 pandemic made its mark on a second Thanksgiving, the giving continued – sort of in-person – as students were updated on the collections and gift-giving via the Conley School’s news team after they had paraded past the lobby to wave at Pantry volunteers Lauren Kelley, Jim Davidson and Walter Gurry, as well Animal Control Officer Laura Howe on Friday, Nov. 19.
Conley’s gifts of food baskets and a cash donations for “furry friends” in the charge of Whitman’s Animal Control Officer are usually bestowed during an all-school assembly, compete with songs performed by students.
Assistant Principal Chris Ahearn gave an emotion-filled speech to the student body as she thanked them for their work on behalf of Principal Karen Downey, who was unable to attend.
“We want to make sure everybody understands what an important time this is,” Ahearn said, noting the school’s traditional large assembly. “I know [Downey] would be impressed with the incredible generosity that has been shown here today.”
She told Conley students that donations may not seem like a lot when they bring in one can or one boxed item at a time, but that those gifts add up.
“But when you look at the amount of things we have brought in and how many families that can help feed in our community, it’s overwhelming,” Ahearn said. “I’m always touched by this assembly and amazed by how special our school community is.”
She then presented a check for $1,225.70 to Howe to aid the animal shelter, 24 Thanksgiving food baskets for the pantry along with, through a gift by a former Conley families – Sandy, Scott, Collin, Aidan, Gavin and Connor McCarthy – and the parents’ company, AEW, a donation of $1,500.
“A generous thank you to our Conley Cubs, big and small who contributed to the Thanksgiving baskets, Penny for Paws and Helping Hands,” reporter Sophia Lombardi said while taping the broadcast for the school’s morning news. “Our Conley Kids really showed how much they love and care for our community by bringing in donations to make the baskets.” She and fellow reporter Kaitlyn Soper and adviser Brenda McLaughlin, a paraprofessional, then panned the camera down a hallway lined with 24 laundry baskets brimming with all the fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner – to which the food pantry would add a turkey. Some baskets even included loving touches such as greeting cards for the family receiving the donation.
The “spare change” donation to the Animal Control Officer brought an emotional thank you from Howe.
“Every year, this means so much to me,” she said, explaining that her partner was also planning to attend, but had to attend to an emergency. “But the good news is they helped a dog and everything will be good. Two days ago we helped a heron and a swan. … He wanted me to express how grateful we both are. We don’t have a hugs budget, and this is enormous. What you guys have done at your young ages, is not only commendable and respectable, you have character and dignity and that will carry you so far in life.”
Howe, who was wearing slides, said she tried to jump in Hobart’s Pond to aid one of the birds, but her shoes kept floating away.
Through the Helping Hands drive, students also donated items needed by area veterans. Students Shane MacCurtain and Ana Flaviana also participate in the Conley new program.
“As a former teacher from Whitman, I just want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts,” Kelly said on behalf of the Pantry, with a break in her voice. “All the families will appreciate it. Keep doing … and I’m not worried about the next generation.”
On Saturday, Nov. 20, the Knights of Columbus celebrated a return to the in-person Thanksgiving dinner for seniors who might otherwise be alone on the holiday. It was the 47th year for the meal, served up by members of the W-H Panther football team – ahead of their 110th annual Thanksgiving game vs. Abington at home – as well as Whitman Police. Members of the East Bridgewater Vikings midget football team, fresh off a super bowl win, helped by doing door duty at the event.
Last year, meals were delivered to seniors since in-person meals were not possible because of COVID.
“We thank you for the generosity of all the volunteers who are going to make this meal possible, for the Knights for hosting it once again and for all those who have made this community what it is,” said the Rev. Adrian Milik, the new pastor at Holy Ghost Church in his blessing.
Grand Knight Devin Morrison extended his welcome and Council on Aging Director Mary Holland addressed the crowd, joking that her predecessor Barbara Garvey hadn’t mentioned there would be a speech involved.
“It’s great to see so many people out and enjoying today,” Holland said. “I’m here to thank everyone, especially the Knights of Columbus, who give constant kindness and generosity to our community – especially our seniors. They volunteer countless hours of effort and their resources, not just today, but all year long to make this happen.”