The setup was different this year, but the coronavirus couldn’t stop the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences (CHSAS) from hosting its annual Thanksgiving dinner for senior citizens.
Hundreds of guests usually fill the school gym for a banquet-style, farm-to-table feast, but this year, students worked with local chefs to prepare the meals, then deliver them to the doorsteps of local residents on Nov. 24.
As senior Robert Breaux sat next to classmate Jack Pikulski in a car waiting for another load of meals, he said he is grateful he could still help.
“We’re thankful that we’re one of the few [students] who were selected to continue this,” said Breaux, of Mt. Greenwood. “Even though it’s a little different, you still get the same feeling of gratitude and thankfulness that you’re able to help the community.”
The school provided over 350 meals to senior citizens. The menu was a classic Thanksgiving dinner—featuring 17 turkeys that were raised as chicks on campus, along with pumpkin pie made from this summer’s harvest.
Green bean casserole, biscuits and Brussels sprouts were also included.
Helping host the dinner since 2013, 19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea joined his staff in preparing the meals this year, along with Chef Alvin Green, Horse Thief Hollow Brewing Co. Owner Neil Byers, Americanos Restaurant Owner A.J. Castillo, Eli’s Cheesecake President Marc Schulman, CHSAS Principal Bill Hook and Smith Village Chef Diego Burgos.
Burgos’ work began two days earlier, when he helped students prepare the turkeys for the oven. He also prepared dressing at Smith Village.
Preparing the meal during a pandemic was trying, he said, but he’s always willing to support charitable efforts.
“I love it,” Burgos said. “It’s my pleasure to do this stuff. Around my entire career, I’ve always done March of Dimes, Meals on Wheels-type events. So finding out Smith Village was involved with this and I was able to help out, it just kind of made my holiday.”
The meal was extra special because it allowed students and staff to re-unite in the building for the first time since March, when CPS buildings closed.
CHSAS teacher Alexandria Pledger savored seeing her students again—for a good cause.
“It’s been really nice to just kind of come together and do something to give back,” Pledger said. “We’re so grateful right now just to be able to do this for people.”
Pledger said she noticed that some orders were just for one person, as guests might be spending the holidays alone to stay safe from the virus.
She praised students for utilizing the unique setup at the school to help others.
To stay safe, students visited the school in pods to care for plants and animals that would be part of the feast.
“I think the students really enjoy participating in it,” Pledger said. “They always want to give back to the community. Also, it’s a bonding activity.”
CHSAS senior Diego Delgadillo joined classmate James Gross in placing meals on large racks and taking them outside to delivery cars.
He was happy to help out older residents.
“It feels wholesome,” Delgadillo said. “The elders who can’t go out, it feels good that at least they have someone who cares for them. They can’t be with their family, but at least we care for them.”
Gross was happy students were still able to host the event even though it couldn’t be in the gym.
As meal preparations wound down, he felt proud about how things turned out.
“It was fun,” Gross said. “It was a lot of work, and it paid off.”