Henderson Ward Stewart Elementary cafeteria manager Prudie Shumpert and Brenda Thomas prepare desserts and rolls for Thanksgiving lunch Tuesday morning. HWS will serve 750 guests in addition to 1,200 students Wednesday morning and afternoon. Photo by: Mary Pollitz/Dispatch Staff
November 14, 2018 10:13:21 AM
Before students were served their lunches on Tuesday, the Henderson Ward Stewart cafeteria staff was still busy putting the final touches on today's menu.
The 12-person team stacked trays of pecan pies, hot dinner rolls, gravy and cranberry sauce for the busiest meal of the year. Today, more than 1,200 students will bring 750 adult guests -- mostly parents and grandparents -- to share a Thanksgiving meal in the cafeteria of the campus for grades 2-4.
Feeding them will take 320 pounds of turkey, 1,100 rolls, 40 pounds of dressing, green beans, corn, fruit cups and nearly 2,000 desserts. Cafeteria workers began planning for the meal last month and have for the last two weeks assembled plates, all while tending to their normal daily duties of serving breakfast and lunch to students.
"It's been a joy, but it's been stressful," cafeteria manager Prudie Shumpert said. "It's going to be exciting though and I am going to see all the parents."
For the students, the most exciting course will likely be dessert, since Thanksgiving lunch is the only meal in the school year which offers dessert. Students and their guests can choose from sweet potato pie, pecan pie, lemon pie and coconut pies. For HWS lead teacher Laura Harris, the lemon pie made by Helen Gandy has been both her and her husband's go-to dessert.
"It's the best pie that's ever been created," Harris said. "My husband has declared it so. Mrs. Gandy makes the best lemon pie and she made my husband a lemon pie for his birthday last year. It's magic."
Each year, students are allotted two tickets each for guests to eat Thanksgiving with them. The tickets were pre-sold for $3.50 apiece, with the sales deadline almost two weeks in advance to ensure there's enough time to prepare enough food.
Shumpert said stress began with one particular dish, but everything has come together just in time.
"It has been a little stressful on the dressing, but we made our way through," Shumpert said. "It's the taste test. You have to make sure it's just right with all the ingredients. Everybody has to pitch in. I have a wonderful staff. Wonderful. I wouldn't ask for anybody better."
HWS Principal Julie Fancher, in her second year at the helm, said bringing parents into the school has been a priority.
"This is an exciting day for everybody, because our doors are open for parents," Fancher said. "Children love to see their parents in their environment at school and spending them with their friends and teacher. What better way in the South do we reach out to people than with food? Any time you can get a parent to come to the school, it helps with student achievement. These parents come to the schools and they spend time with their children and it makes children want to please their parents."
High participation district-wide
Each school in Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District will serve Thanksgiving meals today, with more than 1,800 adult guests buying tickets.
Overstreet Elementary (fifth grade) sold 300 tickets, West Elementary (K-5) sold 100, while Sudduth Elementary (K-1) sold more than 650 tickets.
Ten Sudduth Elementary cafeteria workers have prepared 211 pounds of turkey, 40 pounds of dressing, 1,500 desserts, sweet potato casserole, green beans and rolls. Sudduth Elementary Principal Elizabeth Mosley said the cafeteria has been preparing for weeks but so far, they have not let the stress get to them.
"The cafeteria is a phenomenal group of people," Mosley said. "They really put their souls in it. It's a lot of hard work, but it's the best meal in town. They all work together, they laugh together. They are most appreciated."
Like Fancher, Mosley said getting parents into the schools is just the first step in student achievement.
"I think Thanksgiving lunch gives people an opportunity to come in and visit with their children and teachers and just have a good time," Mosley said. "It's a little bit more casual. I think any time parents and teachers can meet face to face, a lot is accomplished. I think it brings everybody together. We have so many things to be thankful for. We all kind of bond together to have a great day."
SOCSD Superintendent Eddie Peasant will visit the elementary schools this afternoon. After seeing the ticket sales, he said he is excited so many parents have decided to join SOCSD in a Thanksgiving celebration.
"When you bring parents into the school, it gives them a opportunity to interact with their child's teachers in another setting and it makes them a part of our school," Peasant said. "I think it's important for our children to see that their parents are coming to schools. I think any kind of involvement is good involvement. Their presence there impacts the students' love for school and appreciation."
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