GARDINER — The moments of silence Monday afternoon in the hall of Gardiner Area High School were few and brief.

In them lives the chance to reflect on what Thanksgiving means for those who have plenty and those who do not.

A National Honor Society member rearranges a Thanksgiving basket to make sure that eggs and bread end up on top Friday in the Little Theater at Gardiner Area High School. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Beyond them is the reality of the day: Teenagers with energy to burn lining up to carry boxes filled with staples of an American Thanksgiving dinner and a little extra and frozen turkeys in net bags out to the cars of the families who have signed up for the dinners.

Standing behind a wheeled cart with her pages of names, Melissa Gregoire, registrar at the high school, kept the dozens of students on task using just the power of her voice and offered a big welcome to the people who made their way to the lobby outside the school’s auditorium bearing orange cards or letters.

For more than three-and-a-half decades, the Gardiner Area High School students in the National Honor Society have collected food for Thanksgiving baskets for the people in Gardiner, Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner — the four communities in School Administrative District 11 — who need a hand at a time of year when the promise of a big, special meal might otherwise be an empty one.

“We obviously have a need in the community. We are already aware that Gardiner has a pretty large population of kids who are free and reduced,” Jennifer Boudreau said, referring to the subsidized meal program offered in the district.

Boudreau and Rita Tran, both teachers at the high school, are the co-advisors of the National Honor Society at Gardiner Area High School.

“We know there are families in our schools that need this, and the town offices in the school district call us with information,” Boudreau said. “The food bank people will call us, and I’ve had other agencies from around Gardiner contact us for boxes. And individuals have called us to tell us about their need. If they are asking for help, we want to provide.”

Boudreau said the students have their hands on the process from beginning to end. They call the families to make arrangements for dropping off the dinners if they can’t be picked up, and they load up the donated food into cardboard boxes.

Logan Carleton, left, and Jackson Tweedy are two of the Gardiner Area High School National Honor Society students who have worked to put together 200 Thanksgiving baskets for families in the Gardiner area. The pair helped hand out baskets Monday. Kennebec Journal photo by Jessica Lowell

As a senior, this is Logan Carleton’s second year pitching in.

“It’s definitely important to help the community around here,” said Carleton, of Pittston. “There’s a lot families in need that definitely need food around the holiday. It’s just cool to be able to, like, reach out and help those people that actually need food.”

In some cases, he said, there’s not enough income, and in others, tough family situations.

“Everybody has their own story, I guess,” Carleton said.

Jackson Tweedy, who is from West Gardiner, acknowledged that people are facing different situations, some they can help, some they can’t. The fact that the people they are helping living in the four communities that make up the district means a lot, he said.

“It means so much having them know the town is behind them if they need help that they can come here or to the town,” Tweedy said.

Carleton, Tweedy and their fellow National Honor Society members spent hours in planning, making calls asking for donations, coordinating a schoolwide drive for canned food and other items, and contacting the families about how many people they need to feed and whether they will pick up their boxes or need them to be delivered.

On Friday, they filled 200 boxes donated by Core-Mark with the food they collected, including bread from LePage Bakeries, eggs from Hillandale Farms in Turner and potatoes from the Dumond Family Farm in Gardiner, among other places. The Red Barn supplied 28 baskets and pies, and the turkeys spent the weekend in freezers borrowed for the weekend.

Donations from the Gardiner Rotary Club, the SAD 11 superintendent’s offices and others paid for the things that weren’t donated.

On Monday, some students were deployed as drivers to deliver the meals for those who couldn’t get to the high school in Gardiner.

National Honor Society members sort donated canned goods before they pack them into Thanksgiving baskets Friday in the Little Theater at Gardiner Area High School. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

Destiny, who didn’t give her last name, came to pick up her box, parking her minivan at the curb in front of the high school.

She’s been picking up the Thanksgiving dinner every year since her oldest child, now 22, was in kindergarten, and she thinks it’s great that the kids are involved in the program and what goes on their neighborhoods.

“It’s a big help,” Destiny said. “It’s a great big, huge lift, especially this year.”

She became a foster parent this year two two children, who require 24-hour care.

“This helps me help them. They didn’t know what the holidays are,” Destiny said. “This is technically only their second Thanksgiving, and they’re only 4 and 3. It’s that initial step of we don’t have to worry where it’s coming from, because they have this program.”

The National Honor Society members, 76 in total since the most recent induction this fall, are considering whether to add a similar spring event. Boudreau said Easter would be the ideal time, as that coincides with spring vacation when students who rely on the school district for meals will be without that resource.

For Carleton, the best part is seeing the expressions of the people when they have the food in their hands, knowing they can take it home to their families and have a good Thanksgiving.

“It’s a lot, too, if they have kids in the family and that family can’t afford food and stuff like that for the vacation, for the long weekend,” he said. “A lot of kids really depend on coming to school and having their meal here at school. And whereas if we give them that extra food, they’ll have food for the whole vacation.”


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