Feature stories

Thanksgiving luncheon for homeless students

Showing children ‘we care for them’

Christopher Verdone and Joe Usatch (dressed as a turkey) serve some dinners.Jonathan FickesChristopher Verdone and Joe Usatch (dressed as a turkey) serve some dinners. UFT Vice President Richard Mantell checks in with students as dinner is served.Jonathan FickesUFT Vice President Richard Mantell checks in with students as dinner is served. Amanda, 8, paints a little birdhouse during the event.Jonathan FickesAmanda, 8, paints a little birdhouse during the event. Paraprofessional Jose Gonzalez draws superheroes requested by students.Jonathan FickesParaprofessional Jose Gonzalez draws superheroes requested by students.

There were turkeys galore at the UFT’s third annual Thanksgiving luncheon for 150 homeless students on Saturday, Nov. 19, at union headquarters in Manhattan. Besides the plates piled high with turkey, there were large turkey balloons attached to every table, turkey crafts to be colored and even a human-sized turkey in the form of UFT chapter advocate Joseph Usatch, who gamely donned a turkey costume for the second year.

The turkey decorations set the mood, but it was the volunteers who brought the spirit of Thanksgiving as they shepherded students from face painting to necklace making, from manicures to Pilgrim masks.

“It’s all part of our love for children — not just to educate them, but to show them we care for them,” said Brenda Hutto, a teacher and UFT delegate at ACORN Community HS in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Paraprofessional Jose Gonzalez captivated a growing crowd of students with his graffiti drawings.

“Amazing,” whispered a transfixed 8th-grader named William as he watched Gonzalez shade in a drawing of Captain America.

Nearby, 4th-grader Jaylinn beamed as she surveyed her purple nails. Her manicurist Nicole, an 11th-grader at Queens Vocational HS, put the finishing touches on the delicate flowers.

“It felt so good,” Nicole said of how happy she had made the little girl. “I feel like I’m doing something right.”

After lunch, there were shouts of joy as waiters appeared bearing cups of ice cream with sprinkles and whipped cream. But the real topping on the sundae came minutes later as the students gathered in the hallway to receive new winter coats, hats and gloves. One young student gasped with delight at the sight of her new “Frozen” hat and gloves.

Looking on, Latrice Curry, the chapter leader at MS 35 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, said, “This is so wonderful. I love this.”

With the help of donations from her members, Curry had purchased an assortment of coats, sweaters and winter gear for the event. In total, a record 500 new winter jackets for homeless students were donated this year.

“We’re fortunate as educators to be able to do something like this, especially at a time of the year that’s all about giving,” said UFT Vice President for Middle Schools Richard Mantell, who organized the event.

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