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OHS students put the ‘giving’ in Thanksgiving

Olympic High School senior Albert Ardiente, 17, and junior Kali Dupont, 16,  load plates with Thanksgiving dinner for those in need Tuesday at the Bremerton Eagles lodge in downtown Bremerton. - Jesse Beals/staff photo
Olympic High School senior Albert Ardiente, 17, and junior Kali Dupont, 16, load plates with Thanksgiving dinner for those in need Tuesday at the Bremerton Eagles lodge in downtown Bremerton.
— image credit: Jesse Beals/staff photo

“The need has never been greater.”

In his 18 years of assisting with the Olympic High School DECA Club’s annual Thanksgiving dinner at the Bremerton Eagles lodge in downtown Bremerton, OHS alumnus and local comedian and philanthropist Cris Larsen offered those words in describing the mid-morning rush as hundreds of people filled the Eagles lodge for a hot Thanksgiving meal.

“We opened an hour-and-a-half early because we had so many people standing in line outside,” said Larsen, who helps organize the event, as the line remained steady through the noon hour.

In its first year, the event served a mere 54 meals. Last year that number reached 2,300. With the drastic downturn in the economy, organizers were expecting to top last year’s numbers and were prepared with plenty of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, dressing and pie, he said.

“You know what to expect, but when you actually see it, it’s just overwhelming,” he said, as an army of OHS students moved in synchronous harmony delivering hearty plates of food to expectant diners.

While adult volunteers from community service organizations like Rotary and Kiwanis and military personnel from Naval Base Kitsap participate in the event, OHS students provide the main manpower required to make the event a success, he said.

“We’re probably going to have 400 students altogether, and there’s more who would like to help,” he said, adding that for many students the event provides their first glimpse of the world outside their comfortable surroundings. “This is the first time they learn the world’s not just about them.”

As current OHS students continued handling the growing crowds, Larsen said numerous OHS alumni, who participated in the event as students, have helped out with donations of their own and all of the Central Kitsap School District’s elementary schools had food drives to aid in the effort.

“We are the only high school in the nation that does something this large for their community,” he said, noting the event brings out the best in a group of students that is among the best and brightest.

In addition to serving a hot meal to those in need, hygiene items, baby items, blankets, warm coats and other necessities were available.

“We had one student who went to the Dollar Store with their whole paycheck from working part-time and bought as many blankets as they could,” Larsen said, as OHS senior and DECA Club President Chantelle Kieta rushed around to ensure everything was going as planned.

“The event itself is a thrill, and there are a lot of kids who are willing to help,” Kieta said, taking just a moment’s break from directing her large army of volunteers from one task to the next.

In her second year participating in the event, Kieta said the club sent out letters in September about the event and once things got rolling everything appeared to come into place.

“I hope they had a good meal and a good time,” she said, adding that leading the event has taught her the value of delegating responsibility and allowing her fellow students to make things happen.

One of those students was OHS junior Jai’Ana Pananganan who, like Kieta, was helping with the event for her second time.

“I like doing things to help those in need,” Pananganan said. “It’s a lot of work, but I think it really pays off.”

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