A line of people stretched out of Berkeley High School, or BHS, on Saturday afternoon, wrapping around the building as elderly citizens and people in transitional living situations waited for warm meals, pleasant conversation and holiday music at the annual BHS Holiday Meal.
This year, the Holiday Meal was organized by Sarah Weaver, a BHS senior and the school’s chief of service, with the help of John Villavicencio, the director of student activities. The event happens every holiday season, and each year, about 300 volunteers from the school community serve more than 200 meals, according to Weaver.
Student volunteers such as Gina Ledor and Ena Kennedy said they appreciate the opportunity to donate time and effort to helping the community.
“It’s just really nice to be able to give back to the community,” Ledor said. “I see these people in Downtown Berkeley when I am going to school and getting lunch. It’s just really nice to interact with them in this environment.”
Along with the hot meals, drinks and desserts, BHS offered a selection of donated clothes and toiletries that guests could take home with them. The food served was donated either by local businesses or by BHS families.
Live music filled the room decorated with paper snowflakes and menorahs as guests sat around tables conversing. The volunteers moved quickly, serving and busing tables.
Two BHS alumni and old friends reconnected over turkey and potatoes. One of them, Catalina Nelson, wore a sparkling black beanie she had picked up from the donated clothes. Nelson said this was her first time at the Holiday Meal, as she has recently become disabled.
“This is awesome — an awesome gathering,” Nelson said as she clapped along to the music. “Everyone seems to be having fun.”
BHS students were not the only ones volunteering during the Holiday Meal; sign-up was open to all. Parents, faculty, children of staff and sometimes even students from other schools participate in the event, according to Villavicencio.
Gwyneth Galbraith, a parent volunteer, helped cut the turkeys and said her daughters have participated every year they have attended BHS. Galbraith added that she found it inspiring to work next to the mother of a current BHS teacher and said that overall the Holiday Meal was a wonderful community experience.
“I feel conflicted sometimes because this is one of the only things we do as a school community — but then students walk by (the Holiday Meal guests) every day,” Villavicencio said, adding that he hopes the event prompts students to ask themselves, “Why is this happening? What can I do about it? How can I change it so that these people don’t have to go through all of this suffering?”