Cedar Rapids school's community meal spreads holiday spirit, family mentality

Jefferson High School student originally pitched idea for service project

Published: December 10 2013 | 6:00 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 12:40 am in
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Jefferson High School student council members have a message - our school is a family.

To send that message home, the students are busy organizing the Cedar Rapids school’s second annual holiday community meal.

The free meal, which is funded entirely through donations from community members and local businesses, will be open to anyone, with no questions asked.

The effort started last year with one student’s proposal for a holiday service project. At first, the idea seemed too ambitious to be practical, said math teacher and student council co-advisor John O’Connor - could the students pull off a meal for hundreds of people with only a few weeks to plan? But with support from Jefferson cafeteria director Leta Boll and her staff and a $1,000 donation from local non-profit CR netWORK, the students rallied to make the meal a success.

“Our student council kids wanted to do something very big to encourage the Jefferson family mentality that we try very hard to achieve,” O’Connor said.

Despite a huge winter storm the night of last year’s meal, the students served over 650 community members. This year, the students hope to serve 1,000 people.

The students, with the help of staff members, have raised money, sent out invitations, organized decorations and entertainment by the school’s music department and will help serve the meal.

Community support has been huge, O’Connor said. Last year, the students got enough donations to be able to donate the $1,000 starter fund back to CR netWORK. CR netWORK’s goal is to empower youth on the west side of Cedar Rapids.

The meal will include turkey, gravy, potatoes and side dishes. Jefferson special education students made desserts for the meals. Guests will be served at their tables by Jefferson staff members, with students helping with the service from the back of the dining hall.

O’Connor said having staff, rather than students, serve the guests was deliberate. Student council members didn’t want any students coming to the meal to feel uncomfortable about being served by their peers, he said. It also will give teachers a chance to interact with families.

The meal will be served from 5 to 9 p.m. Dec. 18 in the cafeteria at Jefferson High School, 1243 20th St. S.W., Cedar Rapids. There is no charge for the meal. There will be a table for a free will offering to raise money for CR netWORK.

O’Connor said he hopes the community meal continues for years to come.

“It’s amazing how this took off from one student’s idea,” he said. “It has become a really great thing for our school.”

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