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School serves turkey with side of spirit
Chestatee helps community from inside out
Brook Batten, 9, left, and Lucy Cranford, 6, color Thanksgiving-themed pictures during Chestatee Elementarys annual community meal Tuesday afternoon. - photo by Crystal Ledford

Despite being off all week for Thanksgiving, many teachers and staff members at a north Forsyth elementary school volunteered to come to work Tuesday.

For the third year in a row, Chestatee Elementary, near the Hall County line in northeast Forsyth County, presented a free holiday meal for its students, their families and the neighboring community.

The Thanksgiving event was the brainchild of fifth-grade teacher Craig Ahrens.

“We as teachers just want to do this as a way to give back to our students and the community,” he said, noting that about 10 students and their families attended the first year.

“Last year we doubled that and we just hope this keeps growing and growing from year to year.”

This year, he said, teachers were expecting about 100 people. In addition, they planned to deliver several meals to families who, for various reasons, were unable to physically attend.

For those families who were able to make it to campus, staff members greeted them with smiles and hugs.

Teachers decked out in festive aprons stood ready along the buffet line to dip up classic Thanksgiving fare such as roasted turkey, dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans and macaroni and cheese.

Ahrens said besides preparing and serving the food, some of the teachers also contacted area businesses to receive food donations for the event.

They also got a big hand from the school’s cafeteria manager, who came in early Tuesday morning to roast the 15 turkeys donated for the meal.

Staff members also brought in some of their own family members to help with the event.

Ron Crump was visiting his daughter, teacher Amanda Schwartz, from another state but joined her for the school meal.

“I just got recruited to come here and serve,” he joked while dipping up mashed potatoes before passing a plate down the line.

“This is a really nice thing they do every year.”

Seeing her staff members so willing to give back to their school community always warms the heart of Principal Polly Tennies.

She said she looks forward to the meal each year now that it has become a tradition.

“This is a just a great example of Chestatee spirit,” she said. “This school is full of so many wonderful people who just care deeply about this community. You really have that close-knit community feel that you just don’t get at a lot of schools nowadays.”

The giving spirit of the meal continues after the dishes are washed, since leftovers are given to nearby fire stations.

Ahrens said the meal is a way for teachers to show their students and their families that care about them as much outside the classroom as in.

“We want to serve our community from the inside out,” he said. “We want them to feel loved here and accepted and know that no matter what’s going on in life that they’re good enough.

“We’ve had parents who want to replace us to serve the food and it’s hard to say no, but we really want it to come from us [teachers] to show our love for these families.”