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Annual Thanksgiving Dinner Delights Children

by on November 22, 2012 1:42 PM

The smell of turkey hung in the air as children played games before a big Thanksgiving meal.

But this wasn't a family room in central Pennsylvania. And this wasn't just a couple of children, but close to 75. This was the annual Thanksgiving celebration at Calvary Baptist Church in State College. The event is held every year on the weekend before Thanksgiving for children in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program of Centre County.

“We've been doing this for five or six years. It started with a smaller group in the church that decided to put it on,” said Josh Stapleton of Calvary Baptist Church. “This year was a little different. We decided to get some of the kids from our Saturday night service to serve the food. What's neat about this event is that it's a group effort.”

Children from the program began arriving at the church late in the afternoon on Friday. They played games — from pumpkin bowling to relay races and everything in between — prior to dinner being served.

Curt Himmelberger helped organize the event. As a former Big Brother, he understands the value of a mentor.

“In college, I did the Big Brothers Big Sisters program and it was awesome having littles,” Himmelberger said. “We really like to set up this Thanksgiving event for the kids. We had over 20 volunteers … buying the food, delivering the food, serving the food, playing with the kids, planning activities, setting up and tearing down. It's just a huge group effort.”

The dinner menu consisted of the standard Thanksgiving Day fare — turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, peas, cranberry sauce and dinner rolls. For dessert, the children enjoyed ice cream with a plethora of toppings.

According to Stapleton, the church went through six turkeys.

“It's a lot of food. This year, we had great help from Wegmans with the turkeys, potatoes and gravy. You're talking pounds and pounds of potatoes. We can handle heating up the corn,” Stapleton said with a laugh.

As for the children, the smiles told the story.

One third grader from Bellefonte Elementary School said that it wasn't hard to pick her favorite part of the night.

“I like it because you get turkey and ice cream,” she said. “I love sprinkles.”

It also gives the children a glimpse of what Thanksgiving Day will be like.

“I'll get to see my family. I like seeing my aunt and uncle. We won't have ice cream though, we'll have pie — peach, apple and pumpkin,” she explained.

In the end, though, the night isn't about the food. It's about quality time with the children in the program.

“It's great because some of these kids aren't matched yet — because there's such a need for Bigs in Centre County — so they don't get to do a weekly activity,” Himmelberger said. “But they come here, they get to play some games and have fun while they wait for a mentor.”

Chris Morelli is the managing editor of The Centre County Gazette.
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