WELLSBURG - Staff and students at Brooke High School were given Jan.17 off in honor of Martin Luther King Day, but one of the school's cafeterias was as busy as it would be during a typical school lunch period.
That's because the school's administrators, teachers and students and many citizens volunteered to serve a free pasta dinner there in honor of the noted civil rights leader.
Toni Shute, the school's head principal, said there were plans initially to hold a community dinner at Thanksgiving, but she and others didn't want to interfere with a community dinner held then by the Brooke County Salvation Army.
SERVING?UP — Among the many volunteer students, staff and community members who served pasta, salad and cake at a community dinner held in observance of Martin Luther King Day at Brooke High School were, from left: teachers Janet Benzo and Jeannie Schwertfeger, volunteer Robert Shute, his wife, Toni Shute, the school’s head principal; and teacher Kurt Yano.
"They (Salvation Army leaders) gave me such a good idea because they suggested January," Shute said, noting such groups often see a drop in donations after Christmas and some residents suffer a bit from post-holiday blues.
"I thought there's no better time than Martin Luther King Day," she added.
Jim Piccirillo, president of the Brooke County Board of Education, who was among several school board officials who turned out to support the event, noted King once said, "Everybody can be great because anybody can serve."
Organizers of the dinner, which was dubbed "Breaking Bread with the Bruins" for the school's mascot, sent personal invitations to local nursing homes and the Brooke County Senior Center and invited the entire community to participate.
In addition to serving rigatoni, meatballs, salad and cake to attendees from all walks of life, volunteers delivered meals to at least 75 shut-ins.
Nathan Blake, the school's journalism instructor, said the event received a big boost from local businesses and organizations.
"Everything was donated - all of the food, all of the paper products - from local businesses and organizations. It's been a community-wide effort," he said.
Scavati's of Follansbee, Gus's Goodies of Weirton and the Wellsburg Kroger's provided food, Staffileno's on the River supplied paper products, monetary contributions came from First Choice America Federal Credit Union, the Follansbee Chamber of Commerce, Follansbee Municipal Judge David Velegol Jr. and others; and Value-Fresh Food Store of Follansbee donated a gift card to purchase materials.
Staff and volunteers from the Brooke County Senior Center helped school staff and students prepare the meal.
Joining members of the school's student council, Bruin Leadership Team and chapter of Future Educators of America at the serving line were faculty members, members of the Follansbee 20th Century Club, a chapter of the General Federation of Woman's Clubs; and Brooke County Federation of Democratic Women and other volunteers.
Members of the school's Madrigal Choir performed under the direction of Nick Taylor, Brooke's choir director.
Shute said some students initially had mixed feelings about working on a day off, but that apprehension quickly wore off.
"My students have been absolutely fantastic, and they're feeling good about what they're doing," she said.
Katie O'Connell, a junior from Wellsburg, said, "At first it was like, do we really want to do this on a day off? But it's nice to be able to come out and serve dinner to people who may not have it or just wanted to come out and be with other people."
"It's great to serve people like this," agreed Dionne Dunn, a senior from Colliers.
Asked his opinion of the event, attendee Dominick Martino of Wellsburg said, "I think it's great. Who would say a rigatoni dinner wasn't great?"
Martino said he can afford a good meal but wanted to see the school and other area residents as he prepared to return home with a dinner packed for his wife.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)