Last Saturday, Nichols School hosted Buffalo’s First Thanksgiving. The school opened its doors to dozens of refugee families and served them a traditional Thanksgiving meal.
Journey’s End Refugee Services, a Buffalo organization that resettles refugees, has organized First Thanksgiving for several years.
"It started to show the people we serve what Thanksgiving for us is about," said Jeff Ogilvie, the deputy director of Journey’s End.
The event aims to include different cultures in a traditional celebration.
"By making a Buffalo First Thanksgiving, it’s not just American," Ogilvie said. "It’s to bring everyone to the table."
Furthermore, First Thanksgiving gives individuals from Journey’s End the opportunity to bond with the refugees they serve in a settled environment.
"It’s a very good time just to be with them and share a meal without rushing anything," said Hana Mirach, the director of resettlement for Journey’s End.
For the previous two weeks, dozens of Nichols students met on several occasions to plan for First Thanksgiving. They discussed what decorations they would use, how they could entertain refugee children, what materials they would need, and what they should do to spread awareness.
Last week, students began to put their plans in motion and create what they would need for the event.
They wrote welcoming signs in different languages, designed coloring sheets for refugee children, and decorated pumpkins that would serve as table centerpieces.
On Saturday, volunteers started to arrive at 9 a.m. The school bustled with activity.
Nichols students made decorations and prepared Mitchell Hall for the event.
In the dining hall, students lined the tables with festive ribbons, cut out colorful paper turkeys, placed coloring sheets and crayons at every table, and arranged the pumpkin centerpieces.
In the hallways, they posted the multilingual signs and set up hopscotch boards.
Outside, they decorated the sidewalks and walkways with chalk, writing "Welcome" in four languages.
In the art room, they folded napkins in intricate patterns.
Meanwhile, volunteers from Sage Dining and Journey’s End prepared the Thanksgiving meal. Not only did they make traditional dishes, but they also incorporated international cuisine. The volunteers cooked more than 20 different platters for hundreds of people.
At 12:15 p.m., refugees began to flood into Mitchell Hall. The students greeted them, and led them into the dining hall.
Once all the guests arrived, the volunteers gave a presentation. This included brief speeches, greetings in other languages, a performance of "Amazing Grace," and a poem recitation.
The volunteers welcomed their guests, and shared with them smiles and thanks.
After the presentation, the meal began.
The refugees went up by table to help themselves at a self-serve table. They also lined up at serving stations to be served by volunteers.
During service, volunteers worked behind the scenes to restock food, silverware, plates and bowls.
While older guests shared conversations in the dining room, volunteers played with the refugee children.
On the main floor, the students read, played hopscotch and colored with the youngsters.
On the bottom level, volunteers organized games of foursquare.
Outside, students and refugee children kicked around a soccer ball.
At 2:30 p.m., activities began to wind down. Food service was over, and families were starting to head on their way.
Once the refugees had left campus, volunteers cleaned up the dining hall. Come 4 p.m., the cafeteria was spotless, and no traces of the event remained.
Although First Thanksgiving ended Saturday, service in the Buffalo community continues.
Journey’s End assists refugees all year-round, and Nichols School will engage in further service activities throughout the school year.
Dana Nigrin is a sophomore at Nichols School.