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WNY's Great Kids: Williamsville East HS students celebrate Thanksgiving by giving back

The group of students recognize the true meaning of Thanksgiving, by giving hundreds of turkey dinners to those less fortunate and being grateful for what they have.

WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. — A recent field trip for the Williamsville East High School Flames might very well spark a flame in their hearts. 

The teens in Youth Leadership class and Student Council have spent weeks leading a food drive at school. They collected 4,300 cans of food and enough money to purchase 100 turkeys. They've partnered with North Presbyterian Church in Williamsville, Congregation Shir Shalom and Temple Beth Zion, and together they collected enough food for 500 families to have a Thanksgiving meal.

North Presbyterian Church has been leading this Turkey Basket Project for over 35 years, and the Williamsville East students have been helping for more than a decade.

"It's just a good way for kids to understand that the things that we have is just sort of by accident of birth, and we need to pitch in to help others," said Bill Hennessy, pastor of North Presbyterian Church. 

Each family receives a turkey and all the fixings, so they can make the meal at home and not feel the need to go to a soup kitchen for their Thanksgiving meal.

"It warms your heart just to see the kids work, to know you're providing meals for families in the area and just the whole generosity of the town is just insane," said North Presbyterian parishioner Tim Hutton, who serves on the Turkey Basket Committee. 

As the students sort the food, many realize that they often take it for granted. 

"Growing up I was very fortunate to have that Thanksgiving meal on the table because I know it takes a lot of money sometimes. Now (the recipients) get to share a home cooked meal with their families," said Williamsville East 11th grade student Maddie Overhoff.

Austin D'Amico, also a junior at East, said the experience was eye-opening. 

"We're very blessed to have the stuff that we have, so we've got to come together and help people that are way less fortunate than us," D'Amico said.

Eleventh grade student, Samantha Winterhalter, said her classmates are finding sympathy for families who are struggling.

"Some people don't understand what people go through and I feel like it's a great opportunity to give back and give people less stress about having Thanksgiving dinner. Because it should be about family, and not be about stressing about food," she said. 

The kids hope this food won't just fill their bellies, it will also fill their souls. 

"Maybe gives them a little bit of light," said Williamsville East Senior Yousef Ahmed.

Senior Gretchen Beyer said this experience reminds her what the Thanksgiving holiday is all about.

"Nothing beats Thanksgiving dinner with your family. Family means everything," Beyer said.

Sharron Frommann from Temple Beth Zion nominated the Williamsville East students to be featured by WGRZ as "WNY's Great Kids."

"It gives them just a different aspect of life not in suburbia. We hear so many bad things about teenagers and these kids are wonderful. We can't thank them enough for everything they've done for us," said Frommann.

After the kids sorted the food last week, more than a dozen agencies collected it all to distribute to the families. The families are from all walks of life, who need a hand up, not a handout.

This Turkey Basket project has given the families who receive the food a reason to be thankful, and reminds these "Great Kids" from Williamsville East about all they have to be thankful for. 

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