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Students and School Staff Host 'Community' Thanksgiving in Hurricane-Ravaged Florida Panhandle

Many families in Panama City, Fla., have still not returned to their homes more than a month after Hurricane Michael devasted the Panhandle. And some schools in the area just reopened last week.

So, with the community still trying to find its footing after the most powerful hurricane to hit the Panhandle in decades, two schools teamed up this week to cook up thousands of pounds of turkey, ham, along with other traditional Thanksgiving fare like pies, for a "community" Thanksgiving at Jinks Middle School.

The cooking started on Saturday around 7a.m., and continued late into the night, Greg Bailie, the culinary director at Panama City's Bay High School, who organized the feast, told Commodore Productions at Gulf Coast State College.

Bay High School students are sharing space at Jinks Middle School because their campus was greatly damaged in the storm.

Some 100 to 120 Bay High culinary students did the bulk of the cooking, though volunteers, including from local businesses and restaurants stepped up with donations, including their time, Baile said.

The community Thanksgiving—along with music and art therapy—took place two days before the official holiday, and ABC's Good Morning America featured it in a Wednesday segment.

Putting together the dinner was therapeutic for Bailie, the culinary director. He and his family lost everything in the storm, but they were able to count on a support system to help them through. Not everyone has that, he said.

"As bad as the situation may be for me or other people, there are other people much worse off than I am, and if I can do anything to bring a little bit of peace, and comfort, and joy to them, that's what's important," Bailie said.

Education Week spoke with Jinks Middle School Principal Britt Smith a few days after Hurricane Michael tore through the school's gymnasium, which had been a gathering place for his students and the community.

Smith told Commodore Productions that the idea of a community Thanksgiving was hatched about two weeks ago. The staff was also concerned about students, who had lost everything in the hurricane, missing out on celebrating Thanksgiving and other normal childhood activities.

"We didn't have any money, and we didn't have any resources, we just had a goal," Smith said. "Every time we needed something, somehow or another it was provided. ...It's as if there's been a lot of divine intervention to make this event happen today."

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