November 17, 2016
The Nov. 23 Thanksgiving Eve dinner is more than a meal. It is evidence of the commitment by former and current Harvest Youth Board members to serving the local community.
The dinner will be served from 2 to 5 p.m. at Martinsville High School. Meals also may be ordered, and deliveries arranged, by calling 403-9070. There is no charge for either the food or deliveries, and everyone is welcome.
Volunteers will cook traditional Thanksgiving foods and help with other parts of the dinner along with members of the Youth Board, sponsors of the event.
Also pitching in will be five former members of the Youth Board — former chairperson Paulina Vazquez, Cameron Brummitt, Phillip Williams, Candace Foster and Cody Mills — whose terms on the board ended July 31 after they graduated from high school. They were on the board when the idea for the Thanksgiving eve dinner arose, but it was too late to pull it off last year. So, planning continued but the dinner was put off until this fall.
The five former board members were invited back to help with the dinner by the 13 current board members. All five said they do not know exactly what they will be doing at the dinner, whether it will be greeting guests, serving food or helping in any of six areas of responsibility designed for volunteers.
But they all know that, as Mills put it, “I’ll be happy to do whatever needs to be done.”
“Knowing what we learned from Richard’s Dinner (an annual Christmas community dinner) and how organized the Youth Board is, I expect it (the dinner) to be very organized, have a lot of food and hopefully a lot of people,” added Mills, who now attends the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg.
Because they helped with initial planning for the Thanksgiving Eve dinner, the former board members did not hesitate to come back and help with it.
“We came up with the idea when I was on the board and I want to see how it turns out,” said Brummitt, now a student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. “I felt like I was part of it. … I want to be part of it this year as well. We’ll be there to support them (the Youth Board) and help any way we can.”
But their presence means more than whatever chores they will perform, according to some of the youth.
“It kind of sends a message that no matter where you go in the world, you still have a little Martinsville in you and still want to help the community,” said Vazquez, who also attends the University of Virginia. “… Martinsville is still my home, and it provided me with the foundation I have. This is a way to show my appreciation for the community.”
“It’s important to come back because we helped start it,” Mills said of the dinner. “It’s also important because everyone who left the Youth Board is in college now and it’s important that they stay rooted in their original community.”
Williams, like several others, said he “loved the board and want to help any way I can … to help make this more successful and help establish the board in the community.” Williams now attends George Mason University in Fairfax.
To get an idea of what goes into staging such a dinner, Youth Board members volunteered with Richard’s Dinner last December. That helped them estimate the number of people they likely will serve (possibly 2,000 meals), the amount of food they will need and other details.
“We were inspired by Richard’s Dinner,” Williams said.
The Thanksgiving Eve dinner is envisioned as the Youth Board’s “signature” or possibly recurring event, if future boards agree. The former board members said the dinner met the group’s goals for creating such an event.
“We were trying to think of something original,” said Foster, now a student at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. “I said a lot of people have Christmas dinners but nobody has a Thanksgiving Eve dinner. It’s a great way to give back to the community. There are a lot of people who don’t have enough to eat or the means to get something to eat. We wanted to help them.”
Brummitt agreed, and said it also was important that the group have an event that benefited the entire community, not just youth.
“So many people either don’t have the ability to have a good, warm dinner or that sense of community, with a large group of people, family, support. We felt it was a good way for them to know they have a community that loves them,” Mills said.
“We thought that during the holidays, no one should have to go alone or be hungry,” said Vazquez, who added that the event will show that the community “is much like a big family.”
In addition, Williams said the Youth Board wanted to “get our name out but we didn’t want to limit ourselves in who we could help.”
The dinner will be successful if large numbers of people turn out and are helped, Foster and the other former board members said. But some said that is not the only measure of success.
“The number is definitely a factor, but at the end of the day success is having a good feeling about yourself and being able to do your part and trying to help the community,” Vazquez said.
Brummitt said he hopes for a good turnout, but, “I guess I’d rather have quality over quantity. I want everyone to enjoy themselves, not feel like they’re at a soup kitchen. I want them to feel welcome.”
Mills said: “A big crowd would be awesome; we don’t want to waste food. But primarily I hope everyone feels happy and is having a good time.”
Williams also said he hopes there will be a lot of press coverage of the event.
The Youth Board is supported by The Harvest Foundation and the Kiwanis Club. It is entirely student-run and focuses on youth-related issues in the area. It can award grants and create initiatives or develop projects related to youth issues. Board members also serve in an advisory capacity to the full Harvest Board of Directors on youth and community issues.
The former Youth Board members have varied in how much they have kept in touch with the current board since they moved on. But all of them praised the lessons they learned from their board service.
Vazquez said she learned a lot about leadership and responsibility, lessons she now uses with organizations at U.Va. She also developed “a greater appreciation for the community (and its) endless opportunity for youth and people of all ages.”
Mills said he gained a sense of “communal responsibility. It was an amazing experience.” The board empowered teenagers with a large budget, which it had to learn to spend responsibly, and “also what needed to be fixed in the community. We knew some but we’re also ones not experiencing the hardships some others are experiencing. It put us in contact with” that community.
Foster said the board “taught me how to look at things differently. A lot of times a young person will look at something and say ‘fix it.” More goes into it. You have to consider all the possible outcomes. Things are a lot deeper than they think.”
Brummitt said he learned to interact with people of different backgrounds but with a common goal of making the community better. “I wish I was able to do it through my whole high school career. I hope it continues. It will have a great impact on the community,” he added.
Williams said the board empowers youth “in a meaningful way.” There is a lot of “doom and gloom” in the community and while many people have ideas on how to help, he said young people can help.
“People need to ask our generation how they can help the community. If we leave, who is going to be left? While we’re still part of the community, we want to help as much as we can,” he added.