St. Johnsbury Academy students, teachers and staff are gearing up for two community service efforts that have become Thanksgiving traditions.

For the 24th consecutive year, a 22-member team of students and adults led by Academy Culinary Arts instructor Jerry Prevost will prepare and serve complete Thanksgiving meals for about 400 young people at the Covenant House facility in New York City. Prevost has coordinated the project for the last 15 years.

Covenant House is the largest privately-funded nonprofit agency in North and Central America providing shelter and other services to homeless and runaway youth, according to the agency's website, www.covenanthouse.org.

This year's Thanksgiving meal project is expected to include 12 Academy students, representing a mix of members of Culinary Arts classes, the school's National Honor Society Chapter and the Academy's senior class, six Danville High School students, retired Danville guidance counselor Diane Gilfillan, Brian Lynaugh of Walden, Danville parent Denise Briggs, Prevost, and his wife Crystal.

"Giving up time to help people, especially people you have never met, is important," said Academy senior Brittany Berwick of Peacham, a two-year volunteer for the project. "Helping someone else is the greatest gift of all."

Classmate Kaolin Tetreault of Lyndonville, also making his second trip to Covenant House this year, vividly remembered her 2010 experience.

"Every person said thank you to us, and it just made me feel so great," he said. "I felt like I was making a difference and I was. Those people were really thankful for what we were doing."

During the project's first two years, the students only made pies and rolls for the meal, which were then delivered to New York City. In the third year, and every year since, Prevost and the students were asked to travel to Covenant House to assist with the final meal preparation and serving. The pies and rolls are still made in St. Johnsbury, but the rest of their prep work is performed on-site at Covenant House.

Donations from Caledonia County residents take care of most of the ingredients needed to prepare the meal. Danville churches lead the annual fundraising effort in memory of Janet Wakefield, who coordinated fundraising for many years.

Additional information about the Covenant House Thanksgiving meal project is available by contacting Prevost at gprevost@stjacademy.org.

Meanwhile, the Academy's student-run Community Service Resource Center (CSRC) is coordinating a school-wide food collection drive aimed at filling Thanksgiving baskets for area families in need.

About 25 families were helped in the first drive, held 10 years ago. This year, the students hope to assist 160 families, said Academy Social Studies teacher Denise Scavitto, who coordinates the project. Students in the school's HALO program will bake fresh bread to be included in all of the baskets.

"Our students look forward to this project every year," Scavitto said. "They come together as a team to collect and sort the food, then assemble the baskets. "They are excited to take part in a service project that directly affects local families."

Donations will also be received from students, teachers and staff at the St. Johnsbury School, area churches, and the Kingdom Community Services Food Shelf. Other supplies needed to complete the baskets will be purchased with funds raised through a Variety (dress-down) Day.

More information about the Thanksgiving basket project and other CSRC efforts is available by contacting Scavitto at dscavitto@stjacademy.org.

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