GARDEN GROVE, Calif. ― When teacher Ellen McLeod serves a Thanksgiving meal, she and her special education students at Bell Intermediate School invite over a few close friends – more than 200 of them.
For the past 33 years, McLeod and the students have created a traditional Thanksgiving feast that warms the heart by forging relationships and satisfying the most hearty of appetites. What began as a modest classroom activity in 1979 snowballed into a free event bringing together students, parents, all school employees, and fortunate district office representatives.
This year’s celebration takes place Friday in the multipurpose room at Chapman Hettinga Education Center, 11852 Knott St., Garden Grove, which is Bell Intermediate’s temporary location for the current school year.
Under the direction of McLeod, assisted by retired teacher Bruce Newberg, seven classroom aides and 14 special education students will prepare every dish from scratch in the classroom. The event is a daunting task requiring 15 turkeys for roasting, 100 pounds of yams, 80 pounds of green beans, 100 pounds of red potatoes, plus hefty portions of stuffing, cornbread with honey butter, and cranberry punch. Dessert features freshly baked apple and pumpkin pies.
The students are responsible for all decorations, invitations, cooking, and serving as hosts and hostesses for the lunchtime event. They also redeem aluminum cans to pay for the food supplies with assistance from local merchants including Jons Marketplace and Smart & Final.
The annual Thanksgiving gathering is a labor of love for the teacher and her students ― an event they look forward to with anticipation every year.
“Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday,” McLeod says. “There are no expectations about gift giving. It’s all about sharing and, besides, I love to cook.”