PENHOLD – As dozens of communities across Alberta have cancelled large-scale Christmas season turkey dinners, Penhold has beat the odds during the COVID-19 pandemic to successfully and safety host one for 245 people.
Staff at Penhold Elementary School (PES) came up with a holiday season plan a month ago that would honour their students who have courageously trudged forward during the challenging COVID-19 pandemic. And the plan would follow all provincial government COVID protocols and guidelines.
“There have been so many changes they have been put through,” said Lisa Baird, the principal of PES. “They’ve been through social distancing, having to wear masks all day, sitting two metres away from their friends, and not being able to play with other students because they are socially distanced.
“This was one way that we were able to give back to our kids, that they can still find the joy in the smallest things at Christmastime,” she added.
Baird said a Dec. 17 date was set to have a noon-hour turkey dinner for the kids at the school.
Caroline Tindall, the school's nutrition coordinator and a certified Red Seal chef who has all safe food handling certificates from Alberta Health Services, was tasked to ensure the dinner would be an enviable model to combine a holiday season celebration with a proud and joyous salute for resilient students, and most importantly of all - ensure responsible compliance with provincial COVID guidelines.
“We asked for donations for wrapping paper from community members and families so each student could decorate their desk individually so they would have their own little safe area where they could still eat a beautiful turkey dinner sitting by themselves,” said Baird of the dinner preparations for students.
She said 32 turkeys were donated to the school by the Red Deer Mustard Seed, as well as potatoes and corn on the cob.
Baird said the cost for the school to prepare 245 turkey dinners was less than $100. The only expenses for the school was a $78 cost for the buns, and a little bit more for containers.
On Dec. 17, Tindall came to work at 5:30 a.m. The turkeys had been cooked, cut and prepared. The potatoes and corn on the cob were cooked up, and the turkey dressing made to perfection. Later in the morning staff cut and buttered the buns. The cranberry sauce, cutlery and napkins were individually portioned. Tindall was helped by educational assistants and admin staff. Mindful of COVID rules, parents were not allowed in the school to assist.
“Everything was individualized to go to each child’s desk,” said Baird, adding extra turkey dinners were prepared to send home for families in need. “It was the first time we have ever done it but we are looking forward to doing more things like it in the future. This is a community that desperately needs that support.”
The successful effort by PES staff to put on the safe turkey dinner for 245 students and staff was praised by Kurt Sacher, the superintendent of schools for the Chinook’s Edge School Division.
“They used the structures they already had in place with their nutrition program very appropriately to expand a special meal offering to all of their students that many other schools across Alberta would have been unable to continue on with, particularly because they typically rely on external providers in a buffet-style approach in a large group gathering in a gym,” said Sacher. “We are proud of the Penhold staff and the leadership there for how they moved this forward and been able to provide the students with a really nice warm appreciative special lunch in difficult times.
“And yet, at the same time they have followed the COVID restrictions.”