Pictured above: Nearly 300 volunteers served almost 3,000 meals during last year’s event.
The Harvest Youth Board is seeking diners, drivers and other volunteers for its fourth annual Thanksgiving Eve dinner.
The event, called the W. Dan Prince III Thanksgiving Eve Dinner, will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 27, at Martinsville High School.
The free traditional Thanksgiving meal will be served to diners eating at the school cafeteria, available for takeout or delivered to Martinsville and Henry County residents, all thanks to the 13-member Youth Board and about 300 volunteers.
Residents may order meal deliveries until midnight on Nov. 24 by calling (276) 403-9070. No reservations are needed for people coming to the school to share the meal and fellowship.
At the start of the meal, takeout orders will be limited to six per order. Toward the end of the meal, larger orders will be filled if there is enough food, according to Will Gardner, special events chairman for the Youth Board.
The dinner will be the traditional Thanksgiving menu of turkey, ham, green beans, mashed potatoes, cranberries, bread and cookies for dessert, according to Zariah Scales, chairperson of the Youth Board.
In 2017 when more than 2,400 dinners were served, cooks prepared about 530 pounds of turkey, 560 pounds of ham, 90 No. 10 (roughly gallon size) cans of green beans and 10 cases (roughly the size of a laundry basket) of stuffing as well as potatoes, desserts and more.
In 2018, just fewer than 3,000 meals were served. This year, Scales said the board hopes to top that figure. To do that, it is sending out fliers to hosts of community meals, churches and other outlets; posting notices on social media; conducting media interviews; and more.
After the dinner ends each year, the Youth Board meets to discuss what went right, what went wrong, what can be improved and what should be retained, said Gardner, whose role is to assign Youth Board members their responsibilities for the event and make sure it runs smoothly.
As a result of the post-dinner discussion, a recycling station is being added this year to collect aluminum cans and recyclable plastics, Gardner said. Also, many of the paper products to be used this year will be biodegradable, he said.
Recycling and the environment are a large focus of young people today, one the Youth Board talks about frequently, Gardner said. The changes at the dinner may be a small step “but it is one way we’re moving forward” on that issue, he added.
“Our focus is one being more earth-friendly,” Scales said, adding that improvements also have been made in the delivery drivers’ station. Gardner also said a security officer will be stationed at the high school during the dinner.
At last year’s dinner, about 30 to 40 drivers delivered meals. This year the drivers will follow routes that are coordinated by neighborhoods and communities, Scales said. Coulson Call Center in Collinsville has assisted the Youth Board with this, she added.
Most drivers, who must be 18 years of age or older, will deliver meals on one route and then most return to the high school to get another route to deliver.
The process runs smoothly, Scales said, adding that last year all the meals were delivered about an hour before the meal ended at the school.
In all, about 300 volunteers helped with the event last year, Scales said, and those willing to help this year can sign up online at theharvestfoundation.org/thanksgiving-eve-dinner. There will be three shifts of volunteers at the school on the day of the meal, plus some who will help set up the cafeteria the night before.
Many of the volunteers at the school are teens. Scales said Youth Board members go into the area high schools to spread the word and encourage students — and teachers and any other interested people — to help out.
The involvement of the area’s young people in the dinner is one reason the event is special for Scales.
“For me, it’s a great experience not only helping the community, but it’s such a youth-led opportunity and it’s really cool to see a majority of volunteers are teenagers and students. The Youth Board is entirely student-run, and it’s cool to see that the youth in the community can lead the charge on that,” she said.
Others help out as well. Scott Norman will be the head cook for the event, as he has in the past. Norman also heads the cooking for Richard’s Dinner, the community Christmas meal, and any items left from the Thanksgiving Eve dinner will be given to the Christmas meal, Scales said. Martinsville City Schools allows the use of the school cafeteria and kitchen and staff.
While the food is the main attraction, fellowship plays a supporting role. Gardner said his favorite part of the event, and one that separates it from other local community meals, is that when volunteers have free time they are encouraged to sit with diners and talk with them. Sometimes those diners are alone, and the volunteers will make small talk with them, he said.
Those conversations show him the impact of the event in terms of the food they are serving but also in terms of the people they are serving, Gardner said.
“They are very, very appreciative,” he added.
This is the fourth year of the event, which the Youth Board began as its signature event. Its members learn lessons each year, Scales said.
For instance, as special events chairman, Gardner said he has learned how to delegate responsibilities, time management, organization, budgeting, finance and other skills, “things I never thought I would talk about in high school.”
As a result, “it gets easier every year. Every year it runs more smoothly,” Scales said of the dinner.
The Harvest Youth Board is dedicated to creating leadership opportunities for the youth of Martinsville / Henry County through health, education and community initiatives, according to the Harvest website. In addition to the Thanksgiving Eve dinner, the board provides grants of up to $5,000 for programs in Martinsville-Henry County that affect the youth.