Students serve up the cheer at annual dinner

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MIDDLE TOWNSHIP – Ruth Maniscalco’s family sat at two tables at a Thanksgiving feast last Thursday at Middle Township High School.

Students and others served up turkey, corn, mashed potatoes and more to dozens of Cape May County families at the annual dinner planned by Caring for Kids. The organization provides support to families, such as information on parenting.

Children also painted pumpkins and colored with crayons and markers, among other activities.

 “It’s a relief for me, not having to cook. It’s wonderful,” said Maniscalco of Cape May Court House.

She came with more than 10 family members.

Maniscalco’s sister, Maria Matousek of Bellmawr, Camden County, said she wouldn’t have had a Thanksgiving dinner with her sister if not for the feast Thursday at the Middle Township High School. Matousek will be spending Thanksgiving with other family members.

Caring for Kids program director Debbie Brasch said the Thanksgiving dinner helps families socialize, and children get to interact with one another. Many families are isolated because they don’t have transportation, she said.

Some families involved in the organization need parenting help and others advocacy support, she said.

Brasch appreciated the high school students pitching in for the feast because the organization’s lack of volunteers. Three school clubs spearheaded the dinner: Red Cross Club, the Key Club service organization (connected to the Kiwanis Club) and the Interact Club, the Rotary International’s community service organization.

The dinner has been held for about 12 years in several areas in Cape May County, including the Martin King Jr. Community Center in Whitesboro.

Tammy Lewis of Rio Grande said the dinner provides the chance to talk with other parents.

She came with her fiancé Brian Bender and 2-year-old son, Brayan.

Middle Township High School exchange student Reham Ibrahim of Egypt said she wanted to help the community. This wasn’t her first Thanksgiving feast doing so.

The 16-year-old said she also helped with a Thanksgiving feast last weekend at Seashore Community Church of the Nazarene in Lower Township for Hurricane Sandy victims.

Ibrahim, a high school junior, will be here for the entire school year.

“I just need to help people,” said 17-year-old Stephanie Spisak of Green Creek.

The high school senior scooped cranberry sauce onto plates given to people. She also helped set up the ice cream station.

Marcos Damian of Wildwood said he had a good time at the dinner. His three children also got the chance to do different activities, he said. He also came with his wife.

Students weren’t the only ones to lend a hand Thursday night.

Marc Hemby of Upper Township, 25, put food on plates and served them to families lined up at the counter area.

“It’s nice to help people when you get a chance,” he said.

Maryanne Papendick of Cape May said she wanted to help out at the Thanksgiving dinner after hearing it. Her husband, Renny, also came out to the event.

The Papendicks run Victorious of Cape May and Stone Harbor.

Brandon Brady of Woodbine said he enjoyed seeing people come together.

This was the 18-year-old’s first time hosting Thanksgiving dinner.

He helped with painting, Brady assisted with clean up, and he gave people leftovers as they left the high school cafeteria.

Food service worker Dee Howells of Woodbine lauded the students for their work with the Thanksgiving dinner.

“They’re fantastic,” she said.

Howells said students brought covered dishes for the event.

She is in her 13th year with Chartwells School Dining Services at Middle Township School District.

This week, Caring for Kids is distributing Thanksgiving food baskets to families involved in the organization. The effort is done each year.

For more information on Caring for Kids, contact Brasch at 408-5220 or Caring for Kids at 675-5400.

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