MADISON — History and government students at Madison Area Memorial High School had an unusual assignment Tuesday. Their teacher, Barbara Moody, asked them to set the tables in the school cafeteria with silverware, napkins, place mats and coffee cups.

“I like giving back to the community and especially the people here. They treat us well and are really pleasant,” said senior Jack Money, 18, one of Moody’s advanced-placement government students, who said his teacher cleared her class schedule Tuesday to help coordinate a free Thanksgiving dinner for area senior citizens.

Throughout the day, students from Moody’s class and other classes worked in the cafeteria peeling potatoes, cutting vegetables and making apple crisp in anticipation of feeding 300 to 500 senior citizens Tuesday night at the school. This year marks the 25th edition of the school’s free dinner. The event is organized by teachers and other faculty members with the help of donations from students and area businesses.

“We’ve been planning this since September,” said Moody, one of the faculty organizers. “Thanksgiving is a time to give back to the community and especially to senior citizens, many of whom have spent years being involved in the education of our students.”

There were 23 turkeys, 150 pounds of potatoes, 120 pounds of squash, 50 pounds of onions, 100 pounds of sweet potatoes and 14 large pans of apple crisp baked by the school’s chemistry classes. The place mats were made by elementary school students in the district and decorated with turkeys, leaves and the words “Happy Thanksgiving!”

“The food is very good. Even the coffee is delicious,” said 67-year-old Sharane Hunt, of Madison. She said this was her second year attending the dinner, and that she decided to come early this year because last year it was so crowded. She plans to spend Thanksgiving Day at Messalonskee High School’s annual Thanksgiving dinner in Oakland, but she said she won’t go if it’s snowing.

“If it wasn’t for this place, I’d just be alone all week,” she said.

About 60 students from the high school volunteered to work Tuesday night at the dinner, while others volunteered with preparations the day before and during the school day. In the past, a single class has volunteered to run the dinner, but this year the entire school participated, said Ashley Avery, 17, a senior from Athens. She started making mashed potatoes around 1 p.m. Tuesday and was just finishing up around 3:30.

“I really like helping people and enjoy this kind of thing,” she said.

By 3:45 several people had lined up at the school entrance, while final preparations — putting rolls in baskets, straightening silverware and placing the apple cider on ice — took place inside the cafeteria. Faculty and staff members lined up to arrange the plates of food, which were served by students wearing black pants and white shirts.

“It really brings the staff, community and kids together. The senior citizens get to have a good meal and they have a lot of fun,” said art teacher Jim Small, who was wearing a white apron and dishing out mashed potatoes.

“It gives the kids a chance to realize the importance of being good citizens and serving others,” said SAD 59 Superintendent Todd LeRoy. “Schools are usually looked at as needy, and it’s always nice to be able to give back to the community and show we appreciate what they do for us.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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