IGNACIO – An Ignacio High School student group cooked the first-ever student-organized, free Thanksgiving lunch for 200 people last week, and they prepared it mostly from scratch.
The student group, Friends with Food, identifies student needs and works with Pine River Shares, a grassroots nonprofit in the Pine River Valley, to provide for those needs. The students said their peers are often hungry during the day, so they decided to do something about it.
“I did like serving all my friends because everyone could see how big our group was,” said Shyla Dijos, a senior who helped organize the event. “It helped some kids see that there is a group out there that will help you.”
The students spent at least 13 hours preparing food for 275 people. Just over 150 students and 50 adults filed past the lunch counter to receive Thanksgiving staples like turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. (Student volunteers kept the leftovers.)
The massive Thanksgiving meal began when Principal Melanie Taylor donated five turkeys to the student group. Unable to decide how to distribute the turkeys fairly to other students, Friends with Food decided to make them into a meal.
“I was impressed right out of the gate that they were not afraid to tackle such a project,” said Kim Cotta, director of Food Services. “It’s a lot of work to provide 275 meals with whole turkeys and fresh potatoes.”
They peeled and chopped 100 pounds of russet potatoes. They cleaned, de-boned and pulled 15 turkeys donated by the principal, Pine River Shares and Farmers Fresh. La Plata Electric Association donated $250 to cover other costs.
“They loved the potatoes,” said Hannah Cundiff, a senior and event organizer. “They came up to us afterwards and were like, ‘Were those potatoes real? They were the best potatoes we’ve ever had.’”
The students wanted to help others who might not have enough food at home.
“We noticed that a lot of the students at the high school, they get hungry,” Dijos said. “A lot of students would ask other students, ‘Do you have food?’ and stuff like that.”
In the Ignacio School District, 68% of students were eligible for free or reduced lunch in 2018. That’s double the percentage of the district’s closest neighbor, Bayfield, where 33% of students are eligible.
On average, 32.2% of La Plata County students were eligible for free or reduced lunch in 2018. That percentage has stayed in the low 30s since 2009. The 2018 state average was 40.7%.
“I was really happy that the girls wanted to do something like that,” Cotta said. Cotta hoped the administration, students and Food Services department can work together to make free Thanksgiving a yearly event.
For Dijos, the leadership role she has taken through Friends with Food since her freshman year has helped her build confidence.
“I was never really a leader. ... I was mainly a follower,” said Dijos, who describes herself as shy. “Ever since I’ve joined the group, I’m slowly getting more into leadership. ... I think it changes my confidence.”
Cundiff said student leadership has helped her learn about her peers.
“(Leadership) has helped me see how many kids are not the same,” said Cundiff, who has been involved with other leadership roles. “They have a different path toward something. You have to connect with everybody to see what their problems are and what you need to fix.”