Putnam students, families share early Thanksgiving meal

MARIETTA – When a cafeteria worker for AVI Food Systems suggested a Thanksgiving meal for Putnam Elementary students and their families, Principal Jona Hall thought it was a great idea.

She just didn’t realize how many of those family members would agree.

On Thursday, the school welcomed 130 parents, grandparents and siblings for a lunch of turkey, mashed potatoes and other holiday fixings. They actually had to stop accepting reservations a couple days in advance due to the response.

“We thought this was a great opportunity to open up our school to the community,” Hall said. “I’m excited to see whole families here.”

And many students were excited to have their families there as well.

“She has Starbursts,” fifth-grader Jade Gilcrist said of why she was happy to be eating with her mother, Britani Merritt. “And I love Starbursts. And plus I just love my mom.”

Also dining with Jade was her 3-year-old cousin, Raegan McAllister, who was enthusiastically digging into some mashed potatoes.

“I’m pretty sure Raegan would say she likes the food,” Jade said.

Among the visitors was Devola resident Eugene Strahler, who ate lunch at the school for the first time in more than 50 years.

“I used to eat lunch here quite often,” said Strahler, 66. “I went here eight years.”

The event got a thumbs-up from Strahler’s grandson, Bobby, a fifth-grader at the school.

“The kids get to see their parents while they’re in school. I think it’s just awesome,” he said. “It was also good food.”

Kevin Rings, father of a fourth-grader and a second-grader, said the chance to have a holiday lunch with his children is one he wouldn’t pass up – nor would his kids let him.

“If we weren’t here, they’d notice,” Rings said. “At some point very soon, the children will be at the age where they don’t want Mom and Dad around so much.”

That isn’t the case yet for second-grader Skylar Disbrow, who found lunch with her mother, grandparents and sister to be a treat.

“Not that many times that parents come here to eat with you,” she said.

Brian Harmon works the midnight shift but got up early to have lunch with his wife, Sarah, a volunteer at the school, and son, Caleb, a second-grader.

“‘Cause he wanted me to come,” Brian Harmon said.

As she ate with her granddaughter, fourth-grader Anessa Lusby; 3-year-old grandson, Addison Smith; and daughter, Shauency Smith; Lesa Casto said she would like to see the meal become an annual tradition.

“It allows me to interact with my granddaughter and support (the school) and share Thanksgiving with the community,” Casto said.

Hall said the meal may be offered again next year, but no decisions had been made yet as she and other employees were waiting to see how this year’s turned out. The early reviews were positive.

“This is great,” Hall said, noting even children whose parents couldn’t attend were having fun. “Kids are eating with other families too.”