WHITMAN — What can one kid do?
Conley School Principal Karen Downey used a can of green beans and 24 laundry baskets to illustrate the answer for the students at her school during the annual Thanksgiving Basket Assembly on Friday, Nov. 18.
“You live in a wonderful community,” said Whitman Food Pantry volunteer Lauren Kelley. “Anytime we’ve asked for support, you’re always there to help us.”
But she reminded the students that she was getting older and the pantry would be looking to them to step up and help other families. Kelley mentioned the high school volunteers, who are realty appreciated — especially lifting heavy boxes.
Members of the Whitman-Hanson football team had a hands-on answer as they volunteered as servers for the annual Knights of Columbus Thanksgiving Dinner for seniors.
The Knights prepared 24 turkeys — as well as all the fixings — to serve the early holiday meals to 305 elders and volunteer on Saturday, Nov. 19.
In both cases, the commitment of young people to their town gave comfort that Whitman is a community that cares.
“Everybody brings something and we make something very special happen,” Downey said. “We’ve been talking all year about being kind, responsible and respectful and now we’re going to see sort of the fruits of our efforts.”
She held up that can of green beans and asked the students if bringing in the one item they were asked to donate was hard.
“No!” the children yelled back.
She asked them if they thought that can would feed her whole family if she brought it home? Again, the answer was no.
“But, when I put it all together, with all these beautiful baskets, I can probably feed my family for a couple of days,” she said. “There’s leftovers and all kinds of good stuff.”
Downey then told the children, when she thinks about the assembly and what they accomplished it makes it clear what people can do when they work together.
“Sometimes it feels like we can’t do a lot on our own … and sometimes it feels like we’re just kids,” she said. “But guess what? Are you ready to see what you did?”
As Student Council members filed out of the cafeteria, Downey spoke of her pride in the student body.
“I’m so proud with the work that you have done — everybody just brought in one little thing,” she said. “We just did something special. You are going to feed 24 families. You did that.”
She challenged them to tell other kids they can do the same.
“It’s more important to me that you are good citizens and that you take care of people and each other,” Downey concluded adding that it is just as important as reading or math.
As the students sang “When Fall Comes to New England,” the Student Council members filed in carrying those 24 dinner baskets and placing them on the steps to the stage.
Kelley, herself a retired teacher was overwhelmed with the donation of the baskets.
“I want to thank you for your generosity,” she said. “We will be servicing probably 100 families this year. … We’ve had wonderful donations, moneywise, that will help offset some of our costs, we’ve also had food drives, but this is the icing on the cake for us.”
The dogs and cats sheltered by the Animal Control Department are also remembered each year by Conley School students through their year-long change drive, Pennies for Paws. This year the school raised $950.
“You guys are wonderful every year,” Animal Control Officer Laura Howe said. “These times are very challenging for families, so this year I’m even more emotional. … We always spend [the donation] on just the animals,” she said. “We tell the town, ‘You can’t spend this on anything other than toys and dog bones and things that the animals enjoy.”
During pre-dinner speeches and a blessing before the KofC dinner the next day, another kind of service to community was celebrated.
Police Chief Timothy Hanlon presented a plaque honoring the retirement of Edward DeAndrade after 28 years of service as an auxiliary police officer. The requirements of the state’s new police reform law did not provide a sufficient window in which to complete the 200 additional hours of work he needed to be fully trained as a full-time officer, in the wake of the closure of the part-time officers’ academy.
“He volunteered for every shift that he needed to, every cruise patrol, on different events in different types of weather,” Hanlon said. “He has sacrificed for this town and volunteering. I didn’t want him to go as much as he wanted to make it closer to 30 or even more.”
The pre-dinner ceremonies also included the blessing.
“It’s wonderful to gather this way to give thanks, to celebrate and to eat said the Rev. Andrian Milik, pastor of the Holy Ghost Chrurch as he said offered grace.
Whitman Council on Aging Director Mary Holland noted that some other KofCs in the state have had to cancel the last three years because of COVID ad this year, because they couldn’t get the food,
“Thank you to the Knights of Columbus for hosting this every year,” she said. “It’s amazing what these guys do and they go above and beyond to make sure we have this turkey dinner.”
During the pandemic, the meal was distributed to seniors at their homes by Whitman Police as a kind of door-dash service and it returned to an in-person event last year.