National Honor Society members and faculty advisors pack Thanksgiving boxes with food Friday in the Little Theater at Gardiner Area High School. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

When the organization that has helped Hall-Dale Middle and High School put together Thanksgiving baskets for families over the holiday was unable to do so this year, school councilor Tara Kierstead emailed staff in search of any other leads.

She was hoping someone might know an organization that could donate some local food or a place that might donate money.

“I thought I may have had to be on the phone, tracking places down,” she said.

But within 45 minutes of sending the email out, the staff from the school had paid for all 10 of the baskets — two more than Kierstead’s original goal.

“The staff is amazing, all the time, always, but I wasn’t expecting that,” Kierstead said. “They’re all paid for now.”

The baskets are part of an annual giving event Hall-Dale Middle and High School undertakes for families in the school district. Every weekend, families are able to receive a “food pack” of pasta, canned goods, or some fresh veggies.

But for the holidays, they will receive a Thanksgiving basket in addition to the pack, if needed.

Baskets from Hall-Dale will include a frozen turkey, rolls, pies and fresh vegetables, an estimated value of around $30 each.

Kierstead said that the donations are still rolling in — Temple Beth El in Augusta was able to raise money for 10 more baskets to go out during December break. Some baskets may include a ham instead of a turkey.

The Hall-Dale High School Key Club is sending out Thanksgiving baskets, too, for seven families. Students in the club bring the food, or gift cards to get the food, and staff members supply the turkeys. The families are chosen from a list that is supplied by the town halls in the Hall-Dale community.

The baskets may alleviate stress that families may have around the holiday season, Kierstead said, especially now with the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s been a bummer of a year,” she said. “Glimmers of hope like this are what we need to be highlighting. We have been doing this event for years, and it’s more important than ever.

“Things are stressful and uncertain and many people won’t be seeing their families this year,” Kierstead added. “We are taking something off their plates.”

Gardiner Area High School has also seen an increased need for holiday assistance this year.

The school’s Thanksgiving baskets are a tradition in accordance with the 50 students in the National Honor Society, and this year, they upped the number of baskets to 250.

A student tucks a packet of gravy mix into a Thanksgiving food basket Friday in the Little Theater at Gardiner Area High School. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“We have never had 200 (people) on a list before this year,” Rita Tran, the teacher supervisor said. “We usually get 175 and plan for 200.”

GAHS serves the towns of Pittston, Gardiner, West Gardiner and Randolph.

Tran said that the towns make up lists of families that may be interested in receiving a basket. Then students, alongside teacher Melissa Gregoire, call the families and mail them a bright orange slip that will act as their ticket on Monday when they pick up the baskets.

In the past, students with licenses and teachers could help deliver the baskets, but because of the coronavirus, this year families will have to pick up them up at the high school.

Other food banks in the area are unable to open this holiday, Tran added, which may also account for the increase in baskets needed. Because of that, however, other area organizations were able to donate items for the baskets.

One Rotary Club alone donated 100 turkeys, and local churches have given items as well.

“I’ve had people emailing me and dropping stuff off and asking how they can contribute,” Tran said. “I found that you can say what you want about Gardiner, but if there is a need, people are there.”

The Gardiner baskets will include a turkey, cranberry sauce, eggs, rolls, PB&J and some other canned goods. Tran said that the goal is to have some traditional items and other goods and that she is thankful of the food that has been donated from the community.

Clubs and sports teams at the school competed to see who could bring in the most donations for the baskets.

Tran said that this year was increasingly difficult to accept donations because of the hybrid learning schedule, in addition to the two weeks of “red,” or fully remote learning Maine Administrative School District 11 went to because of coronavirus cases.

The school also challenged student groups to collect items for the baskets. The Civil Rights Team and Drama team brought in the most donations for the baskets with 90 items. Second and third place were the foreign language club and boys soccer team, respectively, both with around 70 donated items.

“The kids are excited and they have worked hard,” Tran said.

She noted that to put the baskets together on Friday afternoon, students had to be socially distanced, and wear facial coverings and gloves, but still made it work.

Pickup for Gardiner Area High School’s Thanksgiving baskets is on Monday from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., and Hall-Dale’s baskets are being delivered to the selected families.

“We wanted to thank the community and everyone that contributed,” Tran said. “We weren’t sure how it was going to go with COVID or if we could reach our goal of 250, but we have been so overwhelmed with how generous everyone has been.”

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