Nearly 700 join Cumming Elementary for Thanksgiving meal
Volunteers, from left, Taffiny Cherico, Paula Roach, Wendy Coile and James Robinson at Cumming Elementary School’s community dinner on Monday prepare meals for the community. More than 660 RSVP’d for the meal.

On Monday afternoon, Cumming Elementary School was filled with students eating a meal and hanging out with their friends, teachers watching them and a full line of cafeteria workers handing out food. It was a scene similar to that seen on most school days.

But on this particular day, school was out and the doors opened to the community.

Cumming Elementary hosted a community Thanksgiving meal complete with turkeys, all the fixings and dessert. The event was put together by the school with help from other community groups.

“We thought we would have 200-300 people,” said Vice Principal Jordan Livermore. “When we got the RSVP back, we had over 660 that were returned, so it was double what we had thought. So, we reached out to some community members as well, they all jumped on board and before we knew it, people we didn’t even know within the community were calling us and asking, ‘what do you still need?’”

Teachers and volunteers from community organizations prepared turkeys and sides, set up the meal and walked around handing out meals, drinks and desserts.

“I think it’s really good that we can support all this,” said Emili Hernandez, a ninth-grader at Forsyth Central whose sister, Miranda, is a second-grader at the school. “I think it’s a good idea having families here with their kids all the food and everything. I think it’s really nice … we came with the whole family.”

Emili Hernandez said the food was delicious and was there with her grandmother, two sisters, brother and mom, Luc Hernandez.

Following an event held last year by a local church, the dinner also had cold-weather items — such as clothing, socks, underwear, gloves and blankets — to give away to anyone who needed them

“We’ve put those out so now that it’s cold, families can take anything that they need,” Principal Lee Anne Rice said. “Socks and underwear, it’s not glamorous, but those are expensive and that’s something I think everyone has a need for.”

The items were popular and, as Rice said, a need.

“The people seeking help appreciate it because they take the time,” Luc Hernandez said. “I appreciate for them to do that.”

“It’s not easy, but it’s how this school operates together, like in a team, and they do things like this for families,” Emili Hernandez added.

Rice said the idea for the dinner came after cafeteria manager Marcia Outler came to her worried the school would not be able to have an annual meal for students due to a short-handed staff.

She said Livermore — who formerly was at Chestatee Elementary, which holds a similar community dinner each year — mentioned the idea but she thought it was too soon and thought they should try for next year.

Things didn’t quite work that way, and the school put the event together in about three weeks.

Rice said her role was to “get the ball rolling” and was impressed by the response from school employees.

“Before we knew it, we had so many people volunteering and helping and wanting to serve,” she said. “We had a staff meeting, and I talked to the staff about it and said,’ what do you think? It’s your holiday, it’s your vacation,’ and the response was absolutely overwhelming.”

Liz Ralston, an ESOL teacher, was among those who decided to come in on her time off and was serving food, though she had been busy with other duties earlier in the day.

“This morning I made a lot of food to bring, my church made some food and we brought our dishes over and we’re waiting people right now,” she said, later adding, “It’s amazing to me how many people that aren’t a part of the Cumming Elementary family have come to help volunteer.”

Livermore said the school had six teachers prepping the turkeys and the day before the dinner, volunteers helped cook and carve 30 turkeys, with another 10 prepared on Monday

“I still smell like turkey,” Livermore said, laughing, “and I will never eat turkey again.”

Other volunteers made desserts and sides, handed out foods and did whatever else was necessary to help feed the community.

 “I just think it’s so cool that everybody came together,” Livermore said. “It’s neat that when you do something cool like this that people do want to be a part of it and give back to the community. It’s been for all of our families — poor, middle class, whoever — we just want to bring everyone together and have that sense of community and help parents partner with one another.”