Cary Holman believes in the value of unity.
He believes in the value of caring and he also believes in the value of being kind.
His lifelong belief of those values are what led the longtime principal of LaVergne Middle School to find a way of bringing together students, faculty and, more importantly, the community for a powerful opportunity like Project Feed.
"This experience allows that to come to fruition," Holman said. "I do believe that children's minds are so clouded with many, many negative things, but — I'm a firm believer in this — there are still more people doing right then there are doing wrong. There are children doing right. There are communities that are doing right.
"There are families who care. There are families who enjoy sitting down as a family and having a meal."
Project Feed will take place Tuesday, Nov. 26 from 3:45 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the cafeteria at LaVergne Middle. It is free and open to the public.
This is the 10th year Holman has organized the event at in LaVergne. He previously did it three of the four years he was principal at Central Middle prior to the school transitioning to Central Magnet.
To see returning faces of families every year is most rewarding," Holman said.
Holman recently spoke about the birth of Project Feed and the positive opportunity preparing and serving the Thanksgiving meal provides everyone involved.
KRC: Where did it come from?
CH: When I arrived at Central as principal, one of the things that I'm real keen to is building community and culture within a school. I had to think of how can I get the community to see Central in a light that showed there are some great successes and pluses here at the school. The idea hit me, how about do some type of community function and what better time than Thanksgiving?
KRC: Hundreds of people are served, where does all the food come from?
CH: I met with my faculty and staff. I said, 'OK, I have this idea.' We can do a canned food drive and we literally did a canned food drive for two weeks — we were intentional with the canned foods we asked for — and then we would then cook all of those canned goods, so that's where the vegetables came in. With the meats, at the time at Central, we had community donations. The community partners were flooding in donations. Walmart, Kroger, Save-a-Lot, Publix. All the grocery stores, the banks (and) churches were making donations. Those donations were then used to purchase all the turkeys and all the hams. We now have the meats and we now have the vegetables, so what am I going to do as far as desserts and homemade cornbread dressing? At that point, I said, I know what we can do. Then all the faculty and staff that wanted to could bring in desserts. Now mind you, the approach that I took was it was nothing that was ever mandatory. It was something that was totally optional, but I wanted them to see the community and the school working together — students, teachers, community. And then I would personally make homemade cornbread dressing.
KRC: How do you coordinate preparing that much food, especially the turkeys?
CH: I would go into my teen living classes and I would walk the children through how to cook turkeys, how to cook hams and I would then walk them through how to make homemade cornbread dressing. So it turned out to be a great start. ... I'm making a point each year to go down into a class with students and I will bring students in because we normally cook 25 turkeys and we'll cook at least 25 hams. That amount of turkeys, they have to be cooked at different times so that we can get them all done. The idea hit me, let me pull in some classes and I literally would walk them through. I demonstrated how to take the turkey out, how to clean it, how to wash it off, the whole process and then I would turn it over and put students in groups. I would have groups of four in one kitchen, four in another kitchen and they would then prepare their turkey. Once those two kitchens were done another set of children would come in and they would do theirs.
KRC: What is your greatest takeaway?
CH: The joy that I got behind it was them understanding why we do Project Feed and it's not just for student families that may not get a meal, but it also gives the opportunity for families to come together and sit down at their school environment with their child or with community friends and have a Thanksgiving meal free of charge. Eat as much as you want. We don't ask questions.
KRC: Is there an example of a moment when you saw the whole experience resonate with students?
CH: After doing it here several years, our students — as they matriculate on to the high school — called me one year and said, 'Mr. Holman, we would love to do this at our high school. Can you refresh us and walk us back through the process?' Those children, when they left here and having that experience of wanting to provide a meal for the community, took that same concept to (LaVergne) High School and then pulled it off not for Thanksgiving, but they did it for a Christmas event.
By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT, Rutherford County Schools