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Homemade from the heart |

Homemade from the heart

DANVILLE — Meade Park Elementary School staff and students will take time next week to thank local veterans with a hot meal and entertainment.

The doors will open at 5 p.m. Wednesday, with staff serving a homemade meal of ham, side dishes and desserts during the school’s third annual Veterans’ Dinner.

Meade Park’s speech pathologist Erika Hiser, who took over the event last year, expects 55 to 60 veterans to arrive by bus from the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System to enjoy the annual event.

“Last year we had 45 to 50 veterans,” she said. “The staff serves the food and walks around and chitchats with them.”

The dinner, however, is a whole-school effort. Mallory Yanchunis’ second-grade class crafted 20 “thank you trees” from construction paper that will be used as table centerpieces at the meal.

“We talked about what a veteran is, and then they came up with the reasons why they are thankful for them,” Yanchunis said.

Each tree had six paper branches on which a child would write “Thank you.” A fall-like paper leaf was glued to the end of each branch. On each leaf, the child would write why they were thankful for the veteran.

Some of the sayings included thank you for giving us freedom, for going into battle for us, for being a role model, for fighting for us, for being a leader, for your commitment and for your sacrifice.

“I was so impressed with them,” Yanchunis said. “They came up with all of those, and this is the biggest art project they’ve ever done.”

Yanchunis added that the thank you trees turned out to be “meaningful” and “the vets can take one home after the dinner.”

The trees also meant something to the youngsters who created them.

“Next year my uncle will be in the Army, and I’m going to make one at home for him,” second-grader Zaylen Hayden said.

In addition to the homemade table centerpieces, other surprises are in store for the veterans who attend this year’s dinner.

“This year we are adding more things,” Hiser said of the event. “They will play bingo, and the winners will be able to pick out a prize.”

The prizes include gift baskets, such as a movie night-themed one and a writing-themed one with stationery, and gift cards from several local businesses.

North Ridge Middle School band director Brian Klett said he and a pianist will play jazz music during the dinner.

Several years ago, the Danville VA became a partner in education with the elementary school that borders the National Cemetery. Serving a dinner was a way for the school’s staff and students to give back to the VA and honor veterans.

When the inaugural dinner was held three years ago, 50 veterans from the VA enjoyed a home-cooked turkey dinner with all the trimmings at the east-side elementary school.

Hiser said she wasn’t going to let the new tradition fade away after the original organizers of the meal relocated to other schools in the district.

“Veterans have always had a big place in my heart, so I volunteered to take over the dinner,” she said. “But I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the staff’s and community’s help.

“Every staff member signed up under the food items,” Hiser said, adding that Christway Church will make chicken and noodles.

Ham, green beans, fruit salad, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, rolls and desserts will be served.

Meade Park first-grade teacher Joanna Robinson applied for a Thrivent Action Team grant that helped cover the cost of the food and dinnerware.

“This dinner is a way to thank them for serving our country and fighting for our freedom,” Hiser said.

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