The main attraction of Pendleton Early Learning Center’s Friendsgiving Feast is the kids table.

In its first year of existence, the converted Hawthorne school threw the inaugural feast, a Thanksgiving-themed meal for the school’s 240 kindergartners.

The district’s kindergarten class filed into the cafeteria Friday afternoon, sporting self-made hats depicting turkeys in various states, from the colorful plumage of a live turkey to the dark brown hues of cooked drumsticks.

After reciting several Thanksgiving-themed poems, the kindergartners were then allowed to enjoy the fruits of their labor — fruit salad, blueberry muffins, homemade butter and pumpkin pudding.

Child development specialist Anne Sokoloski helped coordinate the event with the rest of the early learning center staff.

Sokoloski said kindergarten teachers have been throwing pre-Thanksgiving feasts for their students for years, but the tradition needed to be modified when the district transitioned this year to full-day kindergarten.

Half-day kindergarten allowed teachers to treat the feast as an informal lunch, but the school district’s contract with the food services corporation Sodexo meant lunchtime had to proceed as scheduled.

Sokoloski and the other early learning center staff brainstormed and came up with a workaround — a school-wide feast scheduled during the student’s snack time.

“It’s a pretty fancy snack today,” she said. “Usually, its just a couple of crackers.”

Parents contributed supplies and the children helped make the food, but there were other logistical challenges to wrangle with.

Although the center has been praised for its spacious design, the circular tables in the cafeteria could only seat 128, a problem solved by switching them out with longer, rectangular tables.

The Friendsgiving Feast was also only the second time over the course of the year that the entire student body would be in the same room, requiring careful coordination from staff and volunteers. Parents and staff members were aided by 50 students from Sunridge Middle School, who volunteered at the event as a part of Randy Crawford’s leadership class.

Crawford said he sought out volunteer opportunities for his students to teach them the value of being role models and to remind them of the beginning of their educational journey.

“They forget what it’s like to be here,” he said.

The middle school students took Crawford’s assignment with aplomb, dutifully taking care of the preparatory tasks before playing with the kindergartners during their recess.

The Sunridge students bonded with their younger counterparts quickly, so much so that it seemed they had been mentoring them for more than an afternoon.

At one point, a Sunridge student asked if they could take a selfie with their new kindergarten “buddies,” a request Sokoloski politely declined.

Despite the fast-paced organizing that went into the effort, Sokoloski told volunteers she was already planning next year’s event before the first feast was over.

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Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.

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