Editors Note: The print edition of this article erroneously reported that the event would be held on Nov. 27. It will actually take place the day before Thanksgiving on Nov. 25.
Whitley County High School is opening its doors wide to literally anyone that wants to come and enjoy a free Thanksgiving dinner on Nov. 25 — a first-ever event organizers say is a way to connect the school system more closely with the community.
WCHS Principal Bob Lawson said the event will take place from 11 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and he is expecting around 1,500, though there is no way to know for sure.
“Basically, we want to build a stronger community,” Lawson said. “We believe people that eat together, stay together. I think that’s important.”
“We love Thanksgiving. I think everyone does. And we want to love on people and let them know we care.”
Organizers said they plan to cook about 100 turkeys for the dinner. Student clubs within the school system have participated in canned good drives in order to get all the side dishes. Local churches will be providing a wide array of desserts.
The cafeteria staff for the school system will be preparing much of the food. Lawson said there would be a cooking party the night before the event in the Whitley County High School parking lot where volunteers will smoke, fry or grill the turkeys.
“We are hoping it’s kind of like a UK tailgate. We want to have a big time,” Lawson said. “I think it will be a lot of fun.”
Amanda Croley, Assistant Principal at the WCHS Freshman Academy, is primarily responsible for coming up with the idea to have a community Thanksgiving dinner, Lawson said.
For her part, Croley said it has been a collaborative effort on the part of all the principals.
“Ever since we’ve been talking about it, we’ve had awesome response from the community and businesses and volunteers. It just seems like everyone has come together to move this project forward,” Croley said. “It’s everybody that is really making this happen.”
Croley said WCHS plans to literally open the doors to anyone who lives in Whitley County. There will be a welcoming committee at the entrance. She said faculty and staff at the school, along with administrators, would go around and talk with those who show up in an effort to get to know them better and connect.
“We want to really form a relationship with the school and the community and all of those involved,” Croley said. “When you think of Thanksgiving, I think what you remember the most is the food and the family and the conversation. That’s kind of what we want to happen with this. We just want good conversation.”
So far, the event has been mostly spread word of mouth, Croley said. It was published in the most recent edition of the Whitley County School System’s District Ed News, a monthly newspaper that focuses on happenings within the school system.
“We’ve also put some flyers out at a lot of little country stores and spread the word about it through our churches,” Croley said.“Your churches are the pillars of your community and they are a great way to really spread the word about something. They do a good job of that.”
Lawson said the district’s “one-call” system would also generate an announcement that would go out to all students and parents in the school district. It will also be announced on the WCHS Facebook page that is slated to go live in the near future.
Both Lawson and Croley said since the event is sort of unexplored territory for the school, they are hoping their estimates are more or less correct.
“If we run out of turkeys … well, let’s hope that doesn’t happen,” Lawson said with a laugh. “We just hope we have enough.”
The cafeteria at WCHS can hold about 420 people. Lawson said if more room were needed, the cafeteria at Whitley County Middle School would be used as an overflow area.