Aspen High students bring Thanksgiving meals to those in need |

Aspen High students bring Thanksgiving meals to those in need

Young volunteers prepare holiday dinners in collaboration with local nonprofit Pathfinders

Ava Kaplan, 16, stirs green beans as Devin Thomas, 17, slices turkey for their Pathfinders Thanksgiving meal preparation at the Kaplan’s home in Aspen on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. Kaplan and Thomas are helping prepare six meals that will be delivered on Wednesday. The two volunteers are in charge of turkey, green beans, cranberry sauce, and packaging the food. “We believe this is a good way to give back to the community while doing something we enjoy,” said Thomas who joined Pathfinders with Kaplan last summer. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

This Thanksgiving, at least half a dozen homemade dinners will appear on the doorsteps of Pathfinders clients coping with chronic illness, stress, grief and loss. During a holiday season drastically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the meals are a component of the longstanding Aspen nonprofit’s support and resources for those in need throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.

But the chefs are younger than you might think: the meals are the work of the Aspen High School Pathfinders club, recently relaunched by juniors Ava Kaplan and Devin Thomas. Led by Thomas and Kaplan, club members will contribute dishes to six Thanksgiving dinners to be delivered Wednesday.

The Thanksgiving initiative is just the latest project to come out of nearly six months of collaboration between the duo and Pathfinders; when the COVID-19 pandemic hit most of their summer plans ground to a halt, so Kaplan and Thomas decided to dedicate there newfound free time to community service.

“We were like, ’What should we do this summer?’” Kaplan said. “We may as well just kind of get back to our community — help out with everything that we can.”

She and Thomas reached out to Pathfinders in June, offering to make meals for clients of the local nonprofit. They made three to four meals per week throughout the summer.

By time the school year began in the fall, their efforts had expanded to revive the Pathfinders club at Aspen High School. The club had dissolved a few years prior after many of its members graduated; while working with Pathfinders, Thomas and Kaplan realized that rebooting the club could help involve more young people in the Pathfinders mission.

“I remember in the summer, I delivered a meal to family and they were super surprised that I was so young and that I was in high school, and they were so grateful,” Thomas said. “That was also when I realized that I wanted more people in high school to do this because it made me see how important something like this is to the community.”

Devin Thomas, left, and Ava Kaplan package freshly made green beans for their Pathfinders Thanksgiving meals in the Kaplan’s home in Aspen on Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Under their leadership, the club now counts nearly 30 students among its members, each of whom is expected to make two to three meals per semester. Some of those members will contribute dishes for this week’s Thanksgiving dinners.

And by preparing and delivering meals to Pathfinders clients each week, Kaplan says she has found a new level of connection with the community.

“The community is really connected in ways I didn’t even realize,” she said. “It really was touching to see how a simple little meal of lasagna can impact a person so much and (to see) how grateful they are.”

The Thanksgiving meals are a new initiative this year, said Pathfinders Director Allison Daily. The coronavirus pandemic will keep many families apart for the holidays, putting an additional strain on some Pathfinders clients coping with cancer and chronic illnesses for whom a gathering of any sort would be an especially high-risk endeavor this year.

“We have some people who literally are, they’re alone, they don’t have anything — they’re so excited to get a Thanksgiving meal,” Daily said. “Because of their conditions, they’re not able to have family come and visit, and so for them to get a Thanksgiving meal, it’s just going to be really, really special.”

Daily said the enthusiasm of the young volunteers has been something of a silver lining amid the pandemic.

“It’s just been really wonderful to have them want to be so involved,” Daily said. “I have a feeling we’ll keep this tradition going.”

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