Plenty to give thanks for at Basalt High School | AspenTimes.com

Plenty to give thanks for at Basalt High School

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

More than 200 people showed up for the English as a Second Language Thanksgiving celebration at Basalt High School on Wednesday evening. The meal featured traditional Thanksgiving foods, such as turkey breast and stuffing. "Tonight we are a united group that feels like a big family," said sophomore Edwin Sanchez through an interpreter. Sanchez is originally from El Salvador. "We all have a lot to be thankful for. We may be from different places, but we can all enjoy this meal together."

Thanksgiving has been an American tradition since the mid-1600s that has become an annual opportunity to acknowledge what we're grateful for as individuals and families.

That's what made the second annual English as a Second Language Thanksgiving Dinner at Basalt High School even more special for the families involved. Many are new to the country and aren't familiar with all the American holiday traditions but carry a common bond of something to share that they're thankful for.

"We had around 160 attend the dinner last year, and some of the people had never eaten turkey before," said Leticia Ingram, an instructor from the English Language Learners program at Basalt High. "We shared what we know about Thanksgiving in this land of immigrants, and many of us shared what we're grateful for in our lives. It was a wonderful way to connect."

On Wednesday evening, more than 200 people showed up for the celebration.

The dinner came to life last year after Ingram made a pitch for an "experience" grant from the Thrift Shop of Aspen to give some local experience to the ESL families. Several of the Thrift Shop ladies in attendance that day were so moved by Ingram's request that they wanted to do something extra to help that community.

Thrift Shop volunteer Becky Steere, who also is a private chef, suggested the Thanksgiving dinner. Steere offered her services and time to prepare a meal for the ESL families at Basalt High as well as other ESL families in the Basalt community. More Thrift Shop ladies followed, and the Thanksgiving event was created.

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This year, Steere is preparing 100 pounds of turkey, 7 liters of gravy, 40 pounds of mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, cornbread stuffing, green beans and Brussels sprouts, frozen pink salad, and pies, both pumpkin and pecan.

There also will be a roast beef carving station courtesy of the Avalanche Meat and Cheese Shop, flowers sold at cost from City Market, party rentals at a generous discount from Bethel Party Equipment Rentals and floral decorations from Sashae Floral Arts and Gifts in Aspen.

"I'm from Nashville, and I'm bringing a bit of a Southern feel to this meal," Steere said. "Last year the families were so sweet. Some of them had never seen a pumpkin or pecan pie. Ingram is really trying to share our culture with these families. Most of them aren't in the most comfortable place right now. Many are in survival mode, and this is a great chance to have something to celebrate."

Katherine Sand is a member-at-large on the Thrift Shop board of directors and is chairwoman of the grants committee. Like Steere, she was moved by Ingram's passion and volunteered at the event in 2013 and returned again this year to help with the dinner.

Sand made 10 pecan pies for the event and will be washing dishes after the meal.

"Many of the families at the dinner haven't had a chance to integrate into the American culture yet," Sand said. "Last year, many of them were genuinely touched. It was a Thanksgiving celebration in the best possible way and everyone seemed grateful to be together."

Ingram returned to the Thrift Shop this year seeking another grant and brought a half dozen ESL students with her so they could tell the Thrift Shop what they were grateful for in this country.

"It was a Kleenex moment," Sand said.

Ingram said she expects the event to get better each year. This year, she saw many more students get involved with the meal. She had 15 students volunteer to wait tables, another group volunteered to clean up afterward, and a third group raised money to support a raffle at the event.

"It was wonderful to see the people become more relaxed as the evening went on," Ingram said. "It really became a common experience we all could share and relate to, even without a common language other than food. I don't think everyone likes all the different foods, but they definitely learned about American culture. It was really a day of giving thanks for so many things."

mmclaughlin@aspentimes.com