Students at Murrieta Mesa High School in California brought their community together, while helping those less fortunate with a massive Thanksgiving dinner.

Members of the school’s Interact Club continued a tradition of service by organizing the third annual “Share the Harvest” dinner for the Saturday before Thanksgiving, when about 1,600 folks from the community joined together to celebrate the holiday, Patch.com reports.

Interact Club faculty advisor Mike Stowe said the purpose of the event is to help the hungry, and to remind students why “serving others before self” is important. Stowe told the news site he “specifically designed this dinner as a community event” and it’s made a significant impact on students as it’s steadily grown over the last three years.

“In the three years that we’ve been here on campus and done this dinner, there’s been just a tremendous explosion of student programs for helping other people,” he said. “It’s always important; no matter whether it’s good times or bad times, there’s always people who need help.”

Several of the other student clubs also participated in this year’s event, including the Culinary Club, the Pink Ribbon Club, Leadership Club and USB. A flood of volunteers from community organizations like the Kiwanis Club and Rotary Club of Murrieta helped to make the dinner happen, as well.

A Rotary Club announcement of the event states roughly 700 people were fed in the event’s first year, and last year 1,100 were served. Organizers hope this year’s total hits 1,600, though an official count is not yet available.

Stowe said he hopes as many as 5,000 folks attend in 2018.

He credited help from the district’s food service staff, community businesses and churches, students, and generous donations from the school community for supplying food and manpower for a good cause.

According to Patch.com:

The donations included 120 turkeys from Abbott Vascular in Temecula and 250 turkeys from students, staff and parents of Murrieta Mesa High School. Other donations of cash or other items came from at least another 11 businesses and at least four churches.

Both Murrieta Mesa and Vista Murrieta schools held food drives, and the district’s food services department prepared the turkeys for the feast, cooking 100 birds at a time.

“It’s been an overwhelming outpouring of the heart from people to come out and serve,” Murrieta Mesa Principal Mary Walters told the news site.

Murrieta isn’t the only community reaching out to those in need. Ohio State University has hosted an annual Thanksgiving dinner since 1991 that serves as many as 1,600 guests per year, mostly international students who can’t travel home for the holiday.

In an age of “clicktivism” and campaigns to “end poverty” or other issues through donations to organizations online, gathering around tables with people from different walks of life is increasingly important.

Those meals provide opportunities to bond with each other and understand each other as people.

Philosopher James K.A. Smith explained in The Hedgehog Review, a publication of the Institute of Advanced Studies in Culture:

Charitable giving bent on fostering community has to be local. Whereas the technocratic machines of Big Philanthropy need to be as abstract as possible—hence the 'global'—communion philanthropy can only be realized in particular places, with particular people, who share a place and a story.

The “Share the Harvest” dinner connects people who share a place and a story. It strengthens the fabric of the community by forming trust and relationships across education and economic gaps.

Teachers who want to connect similar practices of service with subjects like American history should consider lessons from What So Proudly We Hail, such as this discussion guide of George Washington's "Thanksgiving Proclamation.”

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