One Virginia youth group didn’t let the pandemic stop them from feeding their neighbors this Thanksgiving.
MARTINSVILLE – It’s that time of year again. After much anticipation from the Martinsville community, the Harvest Youth Board recently announced that they plan to move forward with their annual W. Dan Prince III Thanksgiving Eve Dinner.
This year, the gathering won’t be a communal meal. However, as always, anyone who wants to partake is welcome.
The dinner honors the memory of W. Dan Prince III, a Martinsville-area doctor who practiced in the locale for 36 years. He also served on the Harvest Foundation’s board of directors.
The tradition began in 2016 and grew steadily ever since. Put together by area teenagers, 13 local high school students – members of the Harvest Youth Board – make the vision come to life each year.
Will Gardner, a Magna Vista High School senior and the Harvest Youth Board chairman, expressed that every member plays an important role in the organization. Students participate in three main committees: communications, special events and grants.
Throughout the year, the three separate sections work not only on their own portions of the project, but also collaborate on the dinner.
This year, the team especially had their work cut out for them. That’s because – unlike years past – they could not hold a large, indoor community gathering at Martinsville High School. Traditionally, thousands of people descend upon the cafeteria – which students transform into a fine dining area with everything from tablecloths to centerpieces – and enjoy a freshly prepared, free meal with their neighbors.
This year, COVID-19 had different plans. Thankfully, so did the Harvest Youth Board.
Serving in a pandemic
Jaydon Carter, a junior at Magna Vista High School, noted that while the pandemic changed the way the group did things, the teenage team still pressed forward, providing the community with a special meal.
“We usually do a dinner each year serving a hot plate at Martinsville, but this year, COVID took our nation into another direction. This is one of our biggest events that we hold in the community and COVID was not going to stop us from proceeding forth with it,” Carter said. “At first, we were unsure of what action to take on creating this dinner, but with months of discussion and months of planning we finally came forth with the idea to do a Thanksgiving Eve Drive-Thru, where you receive your box and go.”
The team ran with the creative idea.
“We know that we could not hold off on doing this because this is an annual tradition and most importantly the Youth Board enjoys seeing the smiles and the love from people who have been blessed through this process of giving,” Carter said. “Thanksgiving is all about giving back and that is our purpose and aspiration as a board.”
An innovative approach
“Last year, the Harvest Youth Board helped serve over three thousand meals at the W. Dan Prince III Thanksgiving Eve Dinner thanks to the help we received from over 350 volunteers. This year, to protect the health of the youth board and members of our community, we will be distributing preparable meal boxes,” said Piper Doughton, a sophomore at Bassett High School. “Through our partnerships with the Henry County Food Pantry, Henry County Public Schools and Martinsville City Public Schools, our goal is to be able to provide over one thousand meal boxes to members in our community.”
Each meal box contains enough food for a family to have a nice meal on Thanksgiving Day.
“In the meal boxes we will be providing a meat, side items and a dessert for individuals and families that can be prepared for Thanksgiving,” said Anne Catherine Harris, a junior at Bassett High School. “Each box will feed a family of four.”
In addition to providing families with food to eat over the holiday, the students paid special attention to safety protocols.
“This year, the dinner will look a lot different than years past. We will not be delivering hot meals; rather, we have partnered with the Henry County Food Pantry to distribute meal boxes to the community,” said Madison Ross, a senior at Bassett High School.
Ross also noted that the Harvest Youth Board will not utilize volunteers this year, with community safety a foremost thought.
The day of the event, Harvest Youth Board members will take special precautions before passing out the food boxes.
“We knew that keeping everyone safe and healthy was our main priority as soon as we began planning this. Therefore, the Youth Board is going to be wearing the appropriate [personal protective equipment] – gloves and masks – and our temperatures will be taken before we are able to pack boxes,” Harris said. “Henry County Food Pantry volunteers will also take precautions when distributing boxes. Furthermore, meal distribution will be by drive-thru only. We are asking that no one leave their cars when picking up a meal. We would also like everyone to wear a mask when picking up a box.”
A drive-thru meal
Over the years, volunteers drove meals to those who could not make it to the event, but placed a to-go delivery order beforehand. This year, that service isn’t possible due to COVID-19 safety guidelines. However, those in need of a nice dinner simply need to pull up in order to receive their meal box.
“There won’t be any delivery orders this year,” said Corey Brandon, a junior at Magna Vista High School. “We just ask that everyone show up sometime between 12 and 4 p.m. at the Henry County Food Pantry to receive their box.”
There are no official eligibility requirements for those requesting food boxes; simply if they need it, they can have one.
“Anyone who needs a meal box is welcome,” Gardner said.
Taking place the day before Thanksgiving, Wednesday, Nov. 25, the Harvest Youth Board will pass out 1,000 meal boxes on a first come, first served basis. The distribution hours range from noon to 4 p.m., or while supplies last, at the Henry County Food Pantry, located at 3321 Fairystone Park Hwy in Bassett.
Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. She can be reached at [email protected]