New Paltz elementary students host seniors at 15th annual Thanksgiving Luncheon

Duzine Elementary School students Jackson Mitchell and Lia Fabella pose for a photo with their great grandma Norma Jacobsen at the school’s annual senior Thanksgiving luncheon last week. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Wednesday afternoon, November 15, students, teachers and administrators at Duzine and Lenape Elementary Schools once again reached out in the spirit of the holiday season to bridge the gap between generations. Golden-agers from throughout the area gathered at tables to enjoy a sumptuous midday meal prepared by the New Paltz Central School District’s food service professionals, served by the kids themselves, in the two schools’ cafeterias. It was the 25th annual iteration of the Senior Citizen Thanksgiving Luncheon, originally launched by interim superintendent of schools Gary Loewenberg, according to Duzine principal Deborah Hogencamp.

“We’ve been doing it a long time,” Hogencamp noted as she watched her young charges with obvious pride while they carefully placed plates before the assembled seniors: salad, turkey, sweet potatoes, broccoli, dinner rolls and cider, to be followed by a dessert course of apple pie and coffee. “The children love the connections with what they would term ‘grandparents.’ It’s really good for service learning as well, because that’s what we teach: helping people and being kind to people.”

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Twelve young volunteers acted as servers at Duzine: one boy and one girl from each class, their names drawn out of a hat. Some were festively attired for the occasion, including a girl wearing Pikachu ears and a boy in a skeleton shirt. Food service helper Megan Rushia expertly deployed the kids like a maître d’, orchestra conductor and traffic cop all rolled into one. “Aren’t the cafeteria people so perfect with them?” Hogencamp exulted.

About 50 seniors were in attendance at Duzine, recruited for the free meal via newspaper notices and flyers distributed to social venues serving the older crowd, such as the New Paltz Community Center and Woodland Pond. Once everyone had a full plate — served on holiday placemats handmade by the kids from Susan Gruschow’s art classes — two new groups of students assembled to provide the entertainment portion of the luncheon. Second-graders from Ms. Tomasetti and Ms. Wilcox’s class, as well as Ms. Favale and Ms. Hasbrouck’s class, took their places to perform under the direction of music teacher Jessica Rodriguez.

The musical program began with an “echo song” titled “Kye Kye Kule,” which Rodriguez explained was a sort of African equivalent of the classroom standard “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” Next came two Native American “partner songs,” first sung separately and then in tandem: “Canoe Song” and “Land of the Silver Birch.” The kids took up rhythm sticks to beat time for a third Native American song, “Ma Koo Ay.”

The second-graders leapt to their feet for the next number, “Good Afternoon, How Are You?” It was performed like a contra dance, with pairs of students shaking hands and then switching partners down the line until all had returned to their original partner. This was followed up with the old chestnut “A Sailor Went to Sea-Sea-Sea” and finally “We Are Thankful,” sung as a round to the tune of “Frère Jacques.”

As dessert was being served, Fran Matthews of Gardiner, 77, noted that the “Good Afternoon, How Are You?” song dance would be appropriate for welcoming new members to the New Paltz/Gardiner Senior Club. “We’re going to have to adopt that one,” she told her friend Clara Stockhofer of New Paltz. A vigorous 93-year-old who described herself as “a chick in a hen’s body,” Stockhofer explained that she and Matthews attend the luncheon together every year. “She doesn’t like to go alone, and I don’t drive anymore,” adding, “The kids are so adorable!”

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