Middle school students prepare Thanksgiving meal for the elderly

Shiprock Senior Citizen Center plays host to annual event

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

SHIPROCK — The sound of utensils tapping against pots and pans was mixed with chatter from the kitchen inside the Shiprock Senior Citizen Center on Wednesday.

This was the sixth year Tsé Bit A'í Middle School students put together a Thanksgiving dinner for elderly community members at the Shiprock Senior Citizen Center in Shiprock.

For the sixth year, a group of seventh- and eighth-graders from Tsé Bit A'í Middle School were cooking and serving a Thanksgiving meal for elderly community members.

Wearing aprons, hair nets and gloves, the students moved about the kitchen and occasionally shouted directions, especially when carrying warm trays of dressing and yams.

"Shoot. It's hot in here," seventh-grader Nathaniel Bahe said while attempting to cool off by standing near a fan.

Virginia Beyal, the gifted program teacher at the school, said 22 turkeys were donated by parents, community members and Shiprock High School, and each one was cooked for the dinner.

Eighth-graders Jaylon Begay, left, and Dominic Lomelin top a tray of yams with marshmallows on Wednesday at the Shiprock Senior Citizen Center in Shiprock.

Each student was assigned items to bring to the dinner. The students also organized activities to entertain guests.

The students arrived at the center at about 6:45 a.m. to put together side dishes and desserts — using several cans of yams and cranberry sauce, boxes of dressing and bags of potatoes — so they could start serving food at 9:30 a.m.

Ivis Begay, the cook at the center, said when the students arrived, they went straight to the kitchen with their supplies.

"It looks like a mess, but they know what they're doing. I haven't smelled anything burning," Begay said with a chuckle.

To prepare and serve food, the students completed food handler training and received certification from the Navajo Area Indian Health Service. The students' blue certificates were displayed on the kitchen counter.

Tsé Bit A'í Middle School eighth-graders Kaydence Platero, left, Alyssa Bileen and Hana Walter help prepare a Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday at the Shiprock Senior Citizen Center in Shiprock.

This was the first time eighth-grader Olyvia Barney had participated in the dinner. Barney was interested in the project because it provides the opportunity to interact with elderly Navajos, which means more to her since her parental grandmother died this year.

"Every time I see a grandma, I see my nálí lady," Barney said, using the Navajo term for paternal grandparents.

Kaydence Platero worked alongside fellow eighth-grade students Alyssa Bileen and Hana Walter to remove turkey meat from the bones. Platero participated last year and volunteered again because she wanted to see her grandparents at the event.

Seventh-grader Nevaughn Begay tries to remove cranberry sauce for a side dish he was fixing for a Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday at the Shiprock Senior Citizen Center in Shiprock.

She added that some families neglect their older family members, so the event provides an outlet for students to visit with those individuals.

"We hope to fill that little gap in their lives, even if it's just for a day," Platero said during a short break from her work.

While the experience enhanced Platero's cooking skills, she said she also learns about helping the community and communicating with classmates.

Tsé Bit A'í Middle School seventh-grader Jude Thomas delivers a tray of food during a Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday at the Shiprock Senior Citizen Center in Shiprock.

After using scissors to cut open a bag of marshmallows, eighth-grader Dominic Lomelin arranged the confections on top of yams.

"I enjoy helping people," Lomelin said. "I came to help. Last year, when I did it, it was fun."

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.