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Harvest Youth Board plans third annual community meal

MARTINSVILLE – The call line is open for community members who would like free meals delivered to them on Wednesday, Nov. 21 from the Harvest Youth Board’s W. Dan Prince III Thanksgiving Eve Dinner. For those who prefer to dine in, the cafeteria at Martinsville High School will be open from 1-4 p.m.This is the third year for the signature event of the Harvest Youth Board, and its members hope it will continue to get bigger and better every year. In the event’s first year, 1,700 dinners were served or delivered; last year that number rose to more than 2,700. This year, Harvest Youth Board member Jacob Tisdale said they hope to serve at least 3,000 people. To order deliveries, call 403-9070 until 5 p.m. on Nov. 18. Callers will reserve a specific number of meals. Whether area residents choose to eat their meals at the school or have their dinners delivered at their homes, they can expect a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing and green beans, with cookies for dessert. Youth Board members and mostly teenage volunteers will do the bulk of the work — organizing and setting up stations to fill plates with food and ready them for deliveries. They also serve the food to those who eat at the school, talk with diners and clean up afterward. Delivery drivers must be at least 18 year of age, and they will be encouraged to work in pairs. As he did in the past, Scott Norman will oversee preparing the food and volunteers will help cook in the school kitchen. Two supervisors from the high school will be hired because the kitchen equipment is being used, according to DeWitt House, senior program officer at the Harvest Foundation. House said cooking of the turkeys will start on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. The rest of the cooking will start around 7:30 or 8 a.m. the day it will be served. While the menu will be the same as last year, other things will change. Elli McGovern of Martinsville High School, chairperson of the Harvest Youth Board, and Tisdale, who attends Carlisle School and is in charge of all youth board special events, said the layout of the cafeteria stations have been changed to be more functional. For instance, the serving line will be moved directly in front of the delivery station to be more efficient, Tisdale said. Also, this year volunteers will be asked to sign up for one of three shifts to cover the meal. Last year, many volunteers showed up at the same time and confusion ensued. “Last year, I was really, really excited at how many volunteers came out, but without shifts we had too many people and it became overwhelming,” McGovern said. So this year, volunteers will choose to help from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. or 2-4 p.m.Packing plates for deliveries will begin in the early hours and deliveries in Martinsville and Henry County will start around noon; serving at the school will begin around 1, House said. As of mid-November, there were nearly 200 volunteers signed up, he said, adding that the ranks will be filled by the time of the dinner. Lead volunteers will teach the others what to do. Former members of the Youth Board and last year’s volunteers also have been invited back to take part in the meal, House said.  About 5,000 flyers announcing the event were distributed, Tisdale said. They were placed at area library branches, YMCAs, community centers and other locations to attract volunteers and diners, he added. While the food is the center of the dinner, the conversations and interaction between Youth Board members and volunteers and those who come for a meal make the event special. “It’s really positive. It’s amazing to have a part of something that makes such an impact on the community,” McGovern said. “We all take Thanksgiving for granted” but the dinner creates a family-type of experience for people who may not otherwise have that. Mike Coulson with Coulson Services in Collinsville also is volunteering his time and efforts to run the delivery line again this year. Youth board members said the success of the dinner would not be possible without his and the help of many others. “Mr. Coulson’s contributions to our dinner are integral, and we couldn’t reach nearly as many people in our community without his services,” Tisdale said. “He is a great asset to the board and our dinner, as well as anyone looking for a meal on Nov. 21.” Tisdale noted that he is not known as the best conversationalist. But at last year’s dinner he left the kitchen and decided to interact with the diners. “I had a great conversation with a woman. She told me all about the art she loved,” he said. “They (diners) are looking for people who they can talk to.” House also said the drivers who deliver meals sometimes report that residents invite them into their homes to talk. He called the experience “a random act of kindness” that sometimes prompts thank-you notes to the Youth Board. He also told of a friend of his who delivered meals with his son. That night, the man called House and said his son had not previously realized that there were people who didn’t have what his family has. The son became more aware of his ability to help others, House added. McGovern said the event gives teens a hands-on opportunity to be involved in the community. “It’s one day where we’re really involved with them,” she said of the diners. “We want to be part of their family (and) fill in for that day.” The dinner also teaches the young people leadership skills and opportunities, Tisdale said, and it offers a chance to recruit applicants for the youth board. While the dinners are free, if people want to make a donation they are directed to Grace Network, a first-stop center for resources for families in crisis in Martinsville and Henry County, House said.  The dinner is named for the late Dr. Prince, who practiced general internal medicine in Martinsville for 36 years. He died in June 2017 at the age of 66 following a 13-month battle with leukemia. He was an inaugural member of the Harvest Foundation board and served on it for 11 years. For more information on the Thanksgiving Eve dinner and how to volunteer, visit    

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