For the first time in two years, New York Elementary School held an in-person community meal in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Students manned the tables at the front of the room as people came in, accepting donations, selling shirts and keeping track of how many were in attendance. At their last count, more than 300 people had checked in.
Artwork created by New York Elementary students hangs in the school’s halls and graces the cafeteria’s ceilings.
Lawrencians showed up in droves to enjoy the chili, vegetables, cornbread and desserts.
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Thanks to the help of volunteers like Aaron Paden, a 46-year-old Lawrence local, the long tables of food remained stocked, despite the seemingly neverending stream of people eager to chow down.
After piling their red plastic trays high with fragrant food, everyone was welcome to enjoy the meal in the gymnasium.
“We were nervous that no one would show up, and we’d just have a lot of leftover chili,” said Sunny Halsted, principal of New York Elementary. “After not hosting it for two years, we didn’t know what to expect.”
But the community showed up. The line snaked out of the school’s front doors throughout the entirety of the event.
Although the volunteers had to hustle to get the food on plates and out of the kitchen, the room was full of laughter as everyone cut, scooped, stacked and stocked.
Both the chili and the event were in good hands: Melissa Browning runs the Kennedy Early Childhood Center’s kitchen.
A group of students took advantage of the photo prop, which was handcrafted by young artists from New York Elementary. The large cardboard heart represented Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s philosophy of love driving out hate.
The Watkins, Hess, Meihaus and Johnson families laughed and talked as they enjoyed their chili.
The chili was kept warm in the kitchen’s massive ovens as volunteers occupied themselves with the tasks at hand. Both meat and vegetable chili were available; the vegan option was made by the Sunrise Project, and the school district provided the rest.
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Chloe Anderson (she/her) contributed to The Lawrence Times from August 2022 through May 2023. She is also published in Climbing magazine, Kansas Reflector and Sharp End Publishing. As a recent graduate of the University of Kansas, Chloe plans to continue her career in photography, rock climbing and writing somewhere out West.
You can view her portfolio, articles and commissioned work here. Check out more of her work for the Times here.