Thanksgiving is a time to slow down, sit around, have great conversations, and enjoy the holiday, said ORR Superintendent of Schools Doug White to the special guests seated in the junior high cafeteria on November 17 – which is exactly what the 220 Tri-Town seniors did during the annual ORRJHS Thanksgiving Dinner this past Sunday.
In the kitchen, however, there wasn’t a single soul slowing down or sitting around as preparations were underway to serve up 24 turkeys, pounds and pounds of mashed potatoes, and gallons of gravy that early afternoon. In fact, things were speeding up as the clock struck noon and the trays were filled with steaming plates of turkey with all the trimmings.
Year after year, the cafeteria workers at Old Rochester Regional spend hours preparing for and catering the event, which is a lot of hard work, says cafeteria worker Lynne Velozo.
“Sometimes we might dread it when the time comes,” said Velozo of the effort and energy required of them, “but we all love it when we’re here.”
Says Sue Bouley, “It’s just what we do. And the seniors, they always appreciate it.”
Erita LaForest busted a few moves with the others as the pop music on the radio was turned up and the lunch ladies replaced all the lyrics to popular radio station songs with their own simple yet festive ones, singing, “Turkey turkey turkey … tuuuuurkey turkey turkey…”
Because turkey is all they do, smell, and masterfully tend to every year on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. It’s just turkey, turkey, turkey, they laughed.
“By the time we are done, we don’t even want to eat turkey on Thanksgiving,” said LaForest. They are essentially, as she put it, “all turkey-ed out.”
Having said that, though, LaForest said the job gets easier and easier every year as trial and error leads to triumph and efficiency, for example, with the purchasing of a number of hotel-style turkey breasts in addition to the six large turkeys that still need carving.
In charge of the whole operation in the kitchen is “Big Chief” Carollynn Brown, managing the kitchen and all the goings-on and leading the rest of the cafeteria staff volunteers: Rachel Lynch, Julie Wright, Angela and Carol Dexter, Shi and Wyatt Major, and Mike Bower.
They all received a round of applause upon White’s request when he addressed the dinner guests, while also pointing out that this year there were 70 eighth-grade student volunteers helping that day, along with a few high school seniors out front who managed the complimentary valet service that was new this year.
Senior Eli Spevack said he will earn some National Honor Society community service points for his time serving the seniors that day, but it was the suggestion of a teacher that prompted him to help out.
”I thought it would be fun,” said Spevack as he returned to the event entrance after parking yet another guest’s vehicle.
In addition to the 220 senior guests present, another 70 seniors received their complimentary Thanksgiving dinners delivered right to their doors by volunteers.
“It’s tremendous work by our staff,” said White, “…and a wonderful learning opportunity for our students,” he added, listing the skills of collaboration, organization, time management, and communication as being strengthened by the volunteerism they participated in that day.
And now, after a solid 26 years, there is no doubt that the ORR school community is committed to bringing area seniors this Thanksgiving treat year after year, just as White reminded the guests that the townspeople do every year for the schools – remain committed – and this event is just a small way to say thank you during this, the most thankful of seasons.
By Jean Perry