Sixty-two families will have a happier Thanksgiving this year because of the thoughtful efforts of Lawrence County Career & Technical Center students and staff.

Anthony Ovial, learning support teacher, and Donna Pasterik, science teacher, spearheaded a food giveaway through the school's peer leadership program, using donations collected from a variety of sources in the community to buy all of the fixings for a traditional turkey dinner.

The contents of the distribution include pumpkin pies baked fresh Thursday afternoon by employees of the school's restaurant trades program. They had assembled kits for some of the teachers to also bake some of the pies at home in their kitchens, Ovial explained.

"We head this up every year through our Peer Leadership Program," he said. The students were involved with the fund-raising end of the effort before school closed. Now, "unfortunately, our kids aren't in school, so our staff has really stepped up."

The center's teachers union donated $1,000 for grocery store gift cards for turkeys.

Victory Family Church, which hosts Sunday services in the New Castle High School auditorium, purchased the other food items to fill the bags, and First Baptist Church donated three complete meals for three of the families.

Trinity Episcopal Church also reached out and donated, Ovial said.

Other funds were donated by school board members who are on the center's joint operating committee, teachers, the New Castle Rotary Club and private individuals.

"It was a community effort to put this all together," Ovial said.

A team of volunteers from the school and Victory Family Church will deliver the groceries to the families today for their Thanksgiving meals. Ovial said the recipients are those of students at the center who will benefit the most.

We're always looking at where as a church we can serve our community," commented Pastor John Owens of Victory Family Church. "We heard about this opportunity when a teacher reached out to me to help some families in need in the school with Thanksgiving dinners."

Outside of buying the turkeys, "we took care of the whole list," he said. Victory bought items such as mashed potatoes, gravy and desserts, coordinating with Giant Eagle, he said.

"We just want to continue to be a blessing in this community," Owens said. "So many people are struggling right now."

Victory Family Church, which is new to the New Castle area this year, has done 90 outreaches in the community so far this year. It's Owens hope the church can top 100 by the end of the year, he said.

This is the fourth year for the school's food giveaway, which started in 2017 as a peer leadership outreach. The students and staff donated 15 bags of groceries the first year, and it has grown each year, to 36 the second year, 50 the third year and 62 this year, Ovial said.

"It's been a tough year for people," Ovial said. "It's a blessing to me to just talk to these families. Everyone's going through 2020 and COVID in their own ways, but it's definitely been a challenge for a lot of people."

The school's Peer Leadership group is an exclusive school club comprised of students who fill out an applications to join by a process through which students have to meet certain criteria.

"We want the students with best grades and best attendance, and they have to have recommendations," Ovial said.

One of the students came up with the food giveaway idea four years ago as a way to help out financially struggling families, he said. "That seed has continued to grow. It's really been cool to see people jump on this and say 'what do you need?' It's great when people come together like this, it's really a morale booster."

"These turkey bags are a relatively new tradition to the CTC that our peer leadership group does," center director Leonard Rich commented. "An important thing to keep in mind is that our student population is over 70 percent free-and-reduced lunch, and they're worried about the most needy among them.

"The word humbling comes to mind," he said. "Kids who maybe don't have much themselves, thinking about others and having a program like that is growing rather than shrinking, really gives you hope for the future.

"This really is some of the best of what we do in showing man's kindness to man," Rich commented. "They're thankful for what they have and they're even more thankful for what they provide for others."

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Debbie's been a journalist at the New Castle News since 1978, and covers county government, police and fire, New Castle schools, environment and various other realms. She also writes features, takes photos and video and copy edits.

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