SALAMANCA — The Salamanca City Central School District held its fourth annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner Nov. 25.
Hosted by the school and run by the Key Club, a high school student-led organization part of the Kiwanis Club, enough food was collected and donated to serve about 1,200 people at no cost.
Before hundreds of hungry diners entered the high school cafeteria for their free meals of turkey, stuffing, corn, potatoes, cranberry sauce and a dessert, several figures from the school and community welcomed them to the traditional feast.
Key Club President Kendell Valvo served as emcee for the opening ceremony, thanking all those who attended and introducing each guest speaker.
“People keep asking us why we do this event, and our answer is because we love our community,” Valvo said. “It is awesome to give back to such a wonderful community, and we want to do something that leaves a positive change.”
First to speak was Bob Breidenstein, district superintendent, who said the evening’s “extravaganza and turkey-fest” was possible due to “a lot of committed students, wonderful faculty and staff and a lot of warm hearts to feed our community.”
Kiwanis Club President Mark Beehler, who serves as assistant superintendent for academic services at the school, spoke next.
“When you sit down tonight, you’re going to see a placard at each one of the tables that says, ‘We are thankful for you, what are you thankful for?’” he said.
Beehler, who is also a Key Club co-advisor, said he’s thankful to work in a community where he can represent the Kiwanis Club and see the Key Club, the middle school-focused Builders Club and elementary school-focused K-Kids develop and flourish.
“Each of those organizations is dedicated to the youth of Salamanca,” he explained. “What better way to build good leaders than to teach them to serve the people around them?”
The goal of the Kiwanis Club is to serve the children of the world, Beehler said, but that night the children were serving the adults, and he asked everyone to thank the students for their work during the dinner.
Next to speak was Kohl Ambuske, District 27 Lieutenant Governor of the New York Key Club, who represents the Salamanca area. Ambuske said Key Club was founded on performing service and the dinner is one of the best examples of that.
“This is one of the best events hosted by some of the most wonderful students and kids that you’ll ever see,” he said. “They put in a lot of hard work and effort to put this on for the community.”
County Legislator Sue Labuhn, D-District 5, followed Ambuske, echoing many of the thanks expressed and sharing in the event. She said she hopes this annual dinner is just one of many events the Key Club, Builders Club and K-Kids do in the coming years.
“Please support the kids because they support you,” she added.
Following Labuhn, Salamanca Common Council representative Michael Lonto, R-Ward 2, spoke, expressing pride in seeing the community come together again this year and hopes to see it continue.
“On behalf of the city council, I just want to wish everyone a blessed and happy Thanksgiving,” he added.
Next, Pastor Eric Hice of the Center Street Baptist Church gave a thanksgiving blessing. Before the prayer, he said it’s been a blessing to sit back and see how much growth has happened in the school since his time being involved in the community.
“In those four years, watching the kids reach out to the community — the evidence is by all of you being here,” he said.
Darlene Miller, an elder and spiritual leader of the Seneca Nation of Indians, said Thanksgiving is all about peace and kindness, but peace and kindness should go on throughout the year and not only during the holidays.
“Thinking about kindness and how these children are giving back, that’s what it’s about,” she said. “Being there for them and them for us. As an elder, I appreciate it, and all the hard work this school does is appreciated by the community.”
Finally, lacrosse coach Larry Weehler delivered the Ganö:nyök, which Miller explained is the Thanksgiving address in the native Seneca language that gives thanks and shows gratitude for the creator and everything they provide.
Valvo said the dinner would not be possible without the generous donations from students, staff, faculty and community members, help from the Kiwanis Club and kitchen staff in preparations and the Builders Club for their help in decorating the cafeteria.
“I love this event because we truly learn to be leaders and give back, which is always important,” he said. “You help people other than yourself, and that always feels great.”
(Contact managing editor Kellen Quigley at firstname.lastname@example.org)