Each year, students at Sumner High School create a winter wonderland in their gymnasium, and this year was no different: lights and paper snowflakes hung from the ceiling while Christmas music played in the background.
In the center of the gym, tables were set up with centerpieces and tealights, ready to accommodate hundreds of people for the school’s 12th annual Community Dinner to serve the families of Sumner and Bonney Lake.
From noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, people of all ages arrived for the festivities, which included a Thanksgiving-style dinner, Santa pictures and other entertainment — all free of charge.
“We wanted (the dinner) to be an opportunity to bless the community,” said Brandon Wentzel, teacher of Sumner High School’s core leadership class. “A time that they can come in and enjoy being served, completely free.”
We wanted (the dinner) to be an opportunity to bless the community. A time that they can come in and enjoy being served, completely free.
Brandon Wentzel, teacher of core leadership class at Sumner High School
Wentzel’s leadership class helped coordinate the event, raising more than $9,000 with various fundraisers throughout the year. Around 300 students, staff and community members volunteered to help out, each one wearing a red T-shirt to stand out amongst the crowd.
“We wanted this to be something (where) anyone can come and serve,” Wentzel said.
The school received help from various sponsors, including Walmart, Toysmith, Calvary Community Church and Starbucks, which provided free coffee.
“Those (sponsors) have allowed us to take (the event) to the next level and have it grow as it becomes a more known event,” Wentzel said.
And grown it has. The Community Dinner first started at Sumner Middle School, but was eventually moved to the high school. In its first year, about 80 people attended the dinner, versus this year’s anticipated 900.
When preparing for the event, ASB public relations officer Nick Lorge said around 1,500 pamphlets and fliers were hung up and distributed, and he worked with the district office in making sure families in low-income areas knew about the event.
“We really want to make sure our volunteers are servicing families (and) interacting with them,” said activities coordinator Emily Hester. “A lot of (these) families don’t get much of a holiday… All the work has paid off just being here and seeing (them) enjoying themselves.”
We really want to make sure our volunteers are servicing families (and) interacting with them. A lot of (these) families don’t get much of a holiday… All the work has paid off just being here and seeing (them) enjoying themselves.
Emily Hester, activities coordinator
Aside from the free dinner, kids took free pictures with Santa and received free toys. In the back of the gym, a kids room allowed for children to stay preoccupied with movies, games, face painting and making gingerbread houses. The room gave parents and family members a chance to relax, Hester said.
Senior Ashley Garcia volunteered at last year’s Community Dinner. This year, she said, she wanted to see things from the perspective of an attendee. She ate dinner and waited in line for Santa pictures with her mother, Maria Zacabu, and her siblings.
“I volunteered for this (last year) and I thought it was really cool,” Garcia said. “I think everyone was really nice and welcoming.”
“It’s a great thing to do for the community,” added Zacabu.