Some Warren County students will bring turkeys home for Thanksgiving

Michael Whetzel, l9, left, and Adam Taylor, 17, right, help unload 100 frozen turkeys from Cargill Inc. on Monday outside the Warren County student services building in Front Royal. The turkeys will be going home with some of the county's students for Thanksgiving dinner. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL — In the afternoon of Nov. 13, some students enrolled in the evening programs run by the Warren County Schools Special Services Department were unloading and dropping off turkeys in the Diversified Minds building on 15th Street.

On Thanksgiving, the students will be receiving the turkeys.

For the second straight year, Warren County Schools received turkeys from Cargill Inc. in Mount Crawford. Michael Hirsch, director of special services for the district, said that providing the turkeys was a nice thing the district could do for the families of at-risk students.

“It’s really nice to be able to do that with families,” Hirsch said. “We’re not just about reading, writing, arithmetic. We’re about the whole family; we’re about the whole child.”

Hirsch said he came up with the idea to seek out donations for turkeys when he was watching the news. There was a story about people who were helping out in the holidays to help people in need.

“I said, ‘I wonder what we can do?'” Hirsch said. “I’d love to get them a turkey.”

Hirsch then began calling up nearby turkey farms. Cargill was willing to provide the turkeys.

“We went in blind,” Hirsch said. “I just called and said, ‘Hey, I’m from Warren County Schools Special Services Department; we support kids that are nontraditional learners and that are at-risk for a variety of reasons… Is there any way you could donate some turkeys? And they said, ‘How many do you want?'”

Last year, Hirsch said the district received 80 turkeys from Cargill — exactly the number they had asked for.

This year, they asked for and received 100 turkeys.

Hirsch said that he came about that number by looking at the number of students enrolled in each of the Special Service Department’s programs. The 100 turkeys was just a few more than the number they’d need to give everyone in those programs a turkey.

“It seemed like a close number,” Hirsch said. “And then we always have other students in need. So whatever’s left over we just give to other students that need it.”

The students receiving the turkeys have already received notes telling them that they shouldn’t buy a turkey for Thanksgiving, Hirsch said. As they leave for Thanksgiving break, their principals will send them home with the turkeys.

Some of the students receiving the turkeys are from poorer families that might not be able to easily afford to have a full Thanksgiving meal every year. But Hirsch said that the turkeys aren’t just going to students from lower-income families.

“We’re targeting students that are in our nontraditional programs,” Hirsch said. “And what that means is they need a different kind of learning that helps them be successful. So we blend clinical support with behavior modification, behavior support, as well as academic support.”

Many of those students have one or more disabilities. But Hirsch said that others do not have any learning disabilities.

“It’s about a 50/50 blend of students with disabilities as well as students that have some social emotional and behavioral needs that maybe cannot be met well in the traditional school building,” Hirsch said.

Hirsch’s goal — through the turkey gift and through his job — is that those students feel like they’re part of a community.

“We want to be partners with out families,” Hirsch said. “We don’t just feel like we’re educating them from 7:30 to 3:30 from September to August. We feel like we’re part of the community, and we want to be there for them.”