Charlotte Country Day pitches in to help area needy for Christmas

While most classes wrapped up Thursday, Dec. 20, one group of south Charlotte students found themselves back on campus Friday – but this time, they were there by choice.

(Left to right) Katrina Smith, Lauren Wolfe and Ellie Lewis, all sophomores at Charlotte Country Day School, serve hot food to needy students from all over Charlotte during the school’s 22nd annual luncheon for homeless men, women and children..

Around 50 students from Charlotte Country Day School’s Interact Club met at the Cannon Campus on Friday, giving up their first day of winter break to give back to people in need. It was the annual luncheon’s 22nd year helping Charlotte’s homeless men, women and children. And like years past, students from the Interact Club spent the day greeting, serving and fellowshipping with Charlotte’s needy.

David Ball, dean of students and advisor to the club, said the upper school started the service tradition 22 years ago after club advisors wanted to host a project to benefit the community.

“We wanted to come up with a project that brought the community on to our campus and we were looking for something to give back,” he said. “I felt really strongly that it was a real education for our students, too – to expose them to a segment of society that they wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to, a segment that needs our attention. That’s why we continue to do it.”

And since there is so much emphasis around the holidays on giving, Ball said the project was really a no brainer. It just made sense to serve those in the community going through a hard time. They talked with local shelters, finding most didn’t serve hot lunches during the day. And since other schools also were out on winter break, more kids would be in shelters without the hot meal they are provided by schools.

So with the support of area shelters and Aladdin Foods, the school’s food-service provider, and cafeteria manager Joan Marsh, Ball said the initiative quickly came together.

“This is something from the very beginning that we couldn’t do without Aladdin,” Ball said. “They have supported us for 22 years, providing the meals if students would provide the workforce.”

The only thing standing in the group’s way was transportation for the men, women and kids in need, but after securing permission from the school to have access to its buses, Ball said the luncheon was a go.

Senior Kellie Geisel, president of the Interact Club, has always been service-minded thanks in part to her dad, she said, who has spent much of his life traveling and helping others. She joined the Interact Club as a freshman, the same year her sister was president of the club.

“To me, it’s really about helping people who can’t help themselves,” Kellie said. “It’s a really great thing.”

The luncheon is one of the most anticipated traditions of the season for Kellie, as over the years not only has she learned about service, but she’s developed a more open
relationship with the people she’s serving.

“It’s fun to just chat with them,” she said. “I think they just really appreciate the help.”

Living in south Charlotte in the Montebello neighborhood, Kellie said she’s very appreciative of everything she has, but spending time with Charlotte’s homeless is always a great reminder to be thankful.

Next year, she’ll be in college, although she said it’s not uncommon for Country Day alums to show up at the luncheon to serve once again.

“I just think the holiday time is really a time to come together,” she said. “It does serve as a great time for me to appreciate all I do have.”

Ball’s watched students over the years become more and more comfortable serving those less fortunate. This year, the luncheon nearly doubled in size, as Ball said the need has grown.

“We’ve seen a change in the economy, that’s for sure,” he said, adding that at the last minute, event organizers found out the usual serving number of about 200 people had potential to be 500.

But the added number of people didn’t discourage anyone. They instead pulled all of their resources, serving whatever they could find in the Country Day pantry – from pasta to pizza, to turkey and all the trimmings.

“I think in the very beginning, there was the feeling that you were dealing with a population that primarily had problems with alcohol and drugs, but I think the students have the opportunity to see that’s not necessarily the case,” Ball said. “Many of the homeless are just down on their luck – lost jobs, foreclosed houses, and they’re just going through a really tough time right now. The students concept of homelessness has been redefined for them and I think that’s been really good.”

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