A longtime tradition continued Friday at Mt Hope/Nanjemoy Elementary School when it held its 33rd annual Senior Community Thanksgiving Dinner for over 250 Charles County senior citizens.
Dyanna Finamore, a first grade teacher at Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy and the coordinator for the Thanksgiving program, explained that when Connie Barrister, school secretary for Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy for 32 years, retired last year, there were serious concerns that the annual event would not continue.
Finamore said that invitations are sent to churches, nursing homes and senior centers throughout Charles County. Some of the seniors drive themselves, but many also are brought to the dinner on buses provided by various organizations.
Finamore said that she took on the responsibility for organizing the dinner last spring, and Barrister, along with a group of fellow volunteers, came back to prepare the meal.
“Most of these ladies have been here all week,” Finamore said. “Today they got here at 6:30 in the morning, and for the last few nights they haven’t left until seven.”
“They do all the shopping for the food, all the preparing, all the cooking, and even some of the women will actually come out and do some of the serving,“ she continued.
“We have a staff lounge where we have a refrigerator, an oven, and a microwave where the food is prepared. We have other ovens in the school, as well, that they use.”
Finamore, a Charles County native and a teacher for 18 years, pointed out that the meal is a total community event. The students at the school perform for the seniors, alumni of the elementary school from Lackey High School greet arriving senior citizens, and along with adult volunteers, help serve the food and take plates to those seniors who are less mobile.
Henry E. Lackey High School’s JROTC presented the colors for the event and a mostly senior local dance group, The Southern Maryland Line Dancers, also performed.
Finamore said local donations pay for all the food, with almost 30 individuals, local churches, civic and government organizations and businesses contributing. Some local business provided food, as well.
Nancy Seifert, principal of Mt. Hope/Nanjemoy, explained during remarks for the dinner, that over 30 years ago, Elmira Barnes, a teacher at Mt Hope/Nanjemoy, began the event by asking students in her class to bring food prepared by their parents to a thanksgiving dinner at the school. Later, when she became a guidance counsellor, the program expanded to include the entire school and eventually the community.
Seifert, who had been principal at St Thomas Jenifer for six years, took over at Mt Hope/Nanjemoy this school year. Later, while passing from table to table to talk with the senior citizens, she stopped to say that the Thanksgiving Dinner event, “was quite an undertaking, and I am just thrilled to be part of it.”
David Reifsnyder, director of recreation at Genesis Elder Care Center in La Plata, kept returning to the food serving line for plates of food for the eight elderly adults in his care, most of whom were wheelchair bound.
“There’s a woman who works here, who I have worked with her brother. I also have staff with me today whose two grandchildren go to this school,” Reifsnyder said. “We have been getting an invitation every year since I began working at Genesis eight years ago.”
“Actually I was a little worried when I heard that the woman running it was retiring,” he said. “To see this tradition continue is wonderful. The seniors in Charles County really look forward to it. They enjoy the children’s activities and especially the food. The food has something special about it. It has the TLC, the extra little care that makes it more special — like a real Thanksgiving dinner.
“So many different people coming together to make it happen. It isn’t just one person or organization, but many different people and groups. I sincerely believe that even those seniors who are not able to articulate it, still appreciate it nonetheless,” Reifsnyder said.
Superintendent Kimberly A. Hill and a number of elected officials also attended the dinner.