AUGUSTA — St. Michael School eighth-graders handing out Thanksgiving baskets to 174 people, some of whom might go without the traditional meal were it not for the giveaway, gained some things from their generous act that organizers hope will stay with students well beyond the holiday.

An appreciation for being able to spend Thanksgiving with their families, a sense of pride for helping in their community, and an understanding of the importance of helping others throughout their lives are among the lessons.

“I’ll remember this for the rest of my life,” said student Cameron MacLean. “It feels good to give back to the community.”

The bags were full of all the fixings for a traditional Thanksgiving meal with a $10 Hannaford gift certificate included to help cover the cost of a turkey or other main course to complete the meal.

Student Madeline Levesque, who checked people in as they arrived to pick up their food at the St. Michael gym Monday, said she hopes to be part of other such charitable events in the future. She said she felt “blessed to be a part of it.”

School principal Kevin Cullen said the class of eighth-graders has, as a whole, always been good about helping others. He expects that will continue even after they leave the private Catholic school in Augusta.

“It doesn’t end today,” Cullen said of the need to help others. “We teach them this is a lifelong commitment to help those in need.”

Meagan Thayer, of Augusta, brought her 3-and-a-half year-old son Bradley with her to pick up a bag of food Monday, which she planned to use to make a Thanksgiving dinner for her young family, including her 6-and-a-half-year-old daughter. Their Thanksgiving Day meal, the first she’s ever prepared on her own, will be served early in the day, because her boyfriend has to work on Thanksgiving.

“This is so helpful,” Thayer said. “I was struggling, trying to figure out how I’d do it. I think it’s awesome they do this. So everyone can enjoy Thanksgiving, not just those who can afford it.”

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the average cost of a Thanksgiving meal for 10 people will be about $50 this year.

Students organized the food collection for weeks, collecting food from parishioners, family members, local businesses and others.

People in need signed up in October for the Thanksgiving food giveaway with the Salvation Army, and officials with that organization screened applicants to make sure they didn’t exceed income restrictions and that they lived in the four communities served by the local Salvation Army: Augusta, Hallowell, Chelsea and Sidney.

Salvation Army Lt. Kama Lyle said the total of 174 people seeking help this year was down a little bit from the previous year.

“It’s awesome to see the kids involved in it,” Lyle said. “Because of this partnership we have with the school and churches, we’re able to meet the need.”

Cullen credited parishioner and volunteer Fernand LaRochelle for connecting the school with the Salvation Army for the partnership.

“He is heroic to me, to these kids, to this school,” Cullen said of LaRochelle. “He’s a role model for all these kids.”

Student Chris Bourdon said it made him sad to think people could go without a Thanksgiving dinner with their family. But he said he felt glad he could help by helping hand out bags of Thanksgiving dinners.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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