When Cary Holman arrived at LaVergne Middle School in 2010, the newly named principal stressed the importance of having his school reach out into the community to build a relationship.
He wanted to let parents know the school was there for them as well as their children.
He also wanted everyone to know there was more to school than the content read in books. Life lessons, values and principles are equally important, so, in doing that, Holman brought with him the idea of Project Feed.
The school-wide project serves about 750 dinners every year on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. In five previous years at LaVergne and three at Central Middle School -- where Holman started Project Feed -- they've served roughly 5,500 meals.
At a time when the other 45 schools in Rutherford County are beginning their five-day holiday weekend, Holman and his staff follow two full days of preparation by serving free meals to the community from 3:45 to 6 p.m. in the school's cafeteria.
"This is what we do to build a school and community relationship," said Holman, who added, "Everything is a very orchestrated event."
Holman, his staff, teachers, community partners and several of the clubs at LaVergne Middle School will serve the meals, while the rest of the students are on the floor tending to the parents and community members who are there to enjoy a freshly prepared hot meal.
It began with a two-week long canned food drive.
In addition, athletic teams and clubs are required to include the purchase of a turkey and a ham into their annual budgets, which are utilized for this particular project. The canned food is prepared on Monday along with the turkeys and ham.
"As an educator, what's the very first thing we do? We model what we expect our children to do," Holman explained at a recent School Board meeting, where he was invited to talk about the project.
So Holman joined the Adolescent Education class (previously known as Teen Life) and -- as his mother and grandmother once showed him -- personally took students through the process of cleaning a turkey and making the homemade cornbread stuffing that requires onions, peppers and celery to be cut up as well as cooking the turkeys and ham.
After watching Holman go through the entire process with two turkeys, he then turns the rest of the turkey's and ham - they're cooking 23-26 turkeys and 20 hams - over to the class to prepare.
Holman joked that on Tuesday the students are oftentimes trying to figure whose turkey is which.
The teachers are responsible for preparing the cornbread. While the support staff is responsible for the desserts.
"There is zero cost to the school," Holman said, reiterating the food and time it takes to prepare and serve it are donated.
"I'm grateful for the Smyrna, LaVergne Rotary. They have been very active supporters every year as well as local vendors."
The LaVergne community has embraced the annual program, which serves a full-course Thanksgiving meal that includes turkey, ham, stuffing, cranberry sauce, potatoes, green beans, corn, rolls, dessert and tea.
Holman said it's a great way for the school to prepare students for real life situations.
The community sees everyone come together, while students appreciate the experience.
"The joy of it all is letting kids see the importance of giving," Holman said, "but at the same time they're learning why they're doing what they're doing.