The aroma of turkey and the sounds of a classic Thanksgiving cartoon floated down an empty hallway of Chestatee Elementary on Tuesday.
Though classes are out for the week, the school’s teachers and faculty members gathered to put on a free Thanksgiving meal for students and families.
Fifth-grade teacher Craig Ahrens said he’d been a part of a similar event at a previous school.
Seeing the difficult financial times that many families presently face, Ahrens wanted to provide a place for everyone to come together and share a meal at no cost.
“It’s one of those things that kind of sits on your heart and you wonder what more can we do,” he said.
“I just wanted to open the doors of our school and let our community feel loved.”
The idea garnered a lot of support, with food and monetary donations from the school’s parents and partners in education totaling more than $1,600.
Ahrens was also joined by more than 20 teachers and their families who volunteered to cook and serve.
The Chestatee community gathered at 8 a.m. to begin the day-of preparations in the school cafeteria for the meal, which was served starting at 2 p.m.
Turkey, casserole, dressing and desserts galore covered the tables, as about 80 people came by to fill their plates or to-go boxes.
Standing behind the assortment, teacher Melissa Pollock said she wanted to give back to her community by spending her time off at the school.
Teacher Tamela Stanford added that the gesture means a lot to the students.
“We care more than just about academics,” Stanford said. “We care about them.”
Principal Polly Tennies saw that connection as teachers sat down to share meals with the students and their families.
“This is a day off for all of [the teachers],” Tennies said. “That is just amazing to me that they’re giving their free time.”
The school sent letters home with all students, inviting anyone who wanted to attend the meal or help out to do so, she said.
Since nearly 40 percent of students at the northeastern Forsyth school participate in free or reduced lunch, Tennies said, the staff recognized that some children “depend on us for meals.”
Ahrens said he hopes to continue the school’s community outreach through the holiday season, by next putting together Christmas baskets with food.
He also plans to make the Thanksgiving meal an annual tradition.
“It’s just a heart for the community,” Ahrens said. “It’s just a way to let our families come here and know that they’re loved and supported.”