Thanksgiving comes early at Mountain View Middle School

“It’s been a great way for us to build community,” said Michaeleen Gelhaus, principal at Mountain View.

For many students at Mountain View Middle School and their families, that festive Thanksgiving turkey dinner with all the trimmings will arrive a day early.

That’s because staff, students and parents at the school, with the help of local school district administrators and school board members, are hosting Thanksgiving Dinner on Wednesday, Nov. 26.

“It’s been a great way for us to build community,” said Michaeleen Gelhaus, principal at Mountain View. “We’ve really pulled together as a community for this endeavor.”

In past years, the school has made food baskets to send home with students whose families needed some help in order to have a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving, Gelhaus said. But when she began planning that this year, she became aware that some of the families don’t have the ability to prepare a dinner.

“We have a number of families who are living in motels, or with friends, and don’t really have a kitchen where they can prepare a turkey,” she said. “Some of our families are in transition and getting food that they couldn’t prepare wasn’t going to help them.”

About 68 percent of the school’s 850 sixth, seventh and eighth grade students are on the government’s free or reduced lunch program, thus indicating a relatively high level of poverty, she said.

So, she and her staff came up with the idea of preparing the dinner at the school and offering it to any of the students and their families who wanted to attend.

Gelhaus said when parents came for fall student-teacher conferences, they were each handed an invitation to the dinner.

“Confidentially, and anonymously, they could write the number of people in the family and drop the invitation off in a box if they wanted to attend,” she said.

They’re expecting about 160 people for turkey beginning at 4 p.m. in the school’s commons.

Most of the makings for the dinner have been donated by school officials and local churches and it will be cooked at the school by volunteers. Many families from the school have signed up to help serve and clean up dishes afterwards.

“That was a nice twist for us,” Gelhaus said. “When we handed out the invitations at the conferences, several parents said they didn’t need to eat, but they wanted to help.”

Too, a couple of teachers are having their art students make decorations for the tables. And the newlife church of Silverdale, which uses the school for its Sunday services, is supplying the music at the dinner.

Students will be out of school early on Wednesday. So following that, tables will be set up in the commons and everything will be ready by 4 p.m.

And while students have been working on a food drive to support Bremerton Foodline, New Life Church has put together about 400 bags of groceries to send home with those who attend the dinner.

“Throughout this, we’ve tried to be sensitive to people feelings,” Gelhaus said. “It’s hard to want to help, but not want to identify anyone as needing help. We figured by having this be a school community dinner, it would just be a good time for all of us to be together and help each other.”

After all, that’s what Mountain View Middle School is all about.

“We’re a school and a learning environment,” she said. “But mostly we’re a community.”

Gelhaus, who has been principal at Mountain View for five years, hopes to repeat the dinner next year.

“It’s a warm, inviting thing and if it works, we’ll do it again,” she said.