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Thanksgiving came early this year for seniors in Nanjemoy.

The 26th annual Thanksgiving dinner for seniors held at Mount Hope/Nanjemoy Elementary School was two weeks earlier than usual, but was stuffed with just as much traditional holiday fare and children’s performances as in years past.

“I like everything about it,” said Clara Washington of Pisgah, who has attended the event since it started in the 1980s.

While Washington has attended each meal, Connie Bannister has been one of many who work behind the scenes at each dinner.

Bannister, the school’s former secretary and a former student, said the dinners began as a small affair in the third-grade classroom.

Over the years, the dinner expanded from a third-grade event to a schoolwide event and one that brings in about 250 participants, mostly senior citizens.

Some seats are available for local officials and school system staff.

The purpose of the dinner, students said, is to show support for local seniors and give them a Thanksgiving meal.

Kiersten Walker, 10, said some of the seniors can’t cook their own meals so “the school cooks for them.”

With the help of local businesses and community members, the school is able to provide all the holiday favorites, including turkey, ham, rice pudding, cranberry sauce, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and just about everything that comes to mind when one thinks of Thanksgiving.

School Principal Kristin Shields said she and Bannister, along with Bannister’s “team of volunteers,” head out to local stores and farmers markets in the days before the meal to gather supplies.

Bannister said the event, while only two hours long, involves months of planning and several hours of cooking.

“I marvel in how they plan this event,” Shields said.

What Shields enjoys the most is the moment everything comes together and “the joy we share with others.”

Bannister said in the late hours of the evening, she and other volunteers start to get a little silly in the kitchen. She attributes the silliness to tiredness but said the entire thing is worth it because “it’s all about the seniors.”

Theresa Swann of Nanjemoy said she enjoys everything about the event each year, including the cheerful atmosphere and the children’s performances.

Students in each grade perform songs and dances for participants before the meal.

The meal was served buffet-style, and fifth-graders served those who were unable to get their own plates.

The young servers also delivered desserts to each table after the main course had been served.

School staff said being a server is exciting for the fifth-graders, who have performed at the dinner over the years and now get a bigger role.

Servers also get to eat the meal, which was especially exciting for Mekhi Bannister, 10, who said he was looking forward to “eating my grandma’s food.”

Superintendent James E. Richmond said the annual event represents a “lot of giving.”

He said students get an opportunity to appreciate seniors and the event shows how much Mount Hope/Nanjemoy is a community school.

gphillips@somdnews.com