The annual Thanksgiving dinner for the needy will be sweeter and more colorful this year.
Eighth-grade students at Westminster West Middle School have created books, filled with pages to color and games to play, for young guests. And, after today's traditional turkey feast, prepared and served by Shepherd's Staff, an ecumenical ministry to the area needy, diners will receive favors full of bite-size candy.
"Even though they aren't related, it will be like a big family dinner for them," said Jennifer Nilson of Finksburg.
She and her classmates wrapped up the last favors Tuesday, spending much of their lunch time in their classroom.
They filled more than 100 mesh bags, tied them with ribbons and added a note that reads "Team 8 Cares," the class logo. The children donated all the candy.
"Make as many as you can," said Kathy Brown, Shepherd's Staff director, who expects about 300 for the annual dinner in Westminster.
The class had enough supplies left over to make another dozen favors, a task it accomplished in less than five minutes.
T. J. Howard designed the book cover, drawing freehand a cornucopia under the class logo.
"I feel sorry for people who don't have chances in life," said T. J., who will be dining with his family in Deer Park today. "Most people get the stuff they want, but these people are homeless and don't get anything."
Lauren Hart of Westminster copied pictures and games from magazines for the book's pages.
Shepherd's Staff will provide pencils and crayons for children who may finish their plates long before their parents.
"We want people to have a good life, not live on the streets," Lauren said. "We will give them food, coats, toothpaste, anything they need. We are here to help them."
"And make them feel cared about at the holidays," said Mandy Westphal of Westminster. "Sometimes, all they need is extra food and a hug."
The holidays can make people feel lonelier, said Shannon Decker of Westminster.
Many people have low-paying jobs and cannot afford a big dinner, said Tony Nusbaum of Gamber.
"They have jobs but not enough money to buy what they need for Thanksgiving," Tony said. "I bet they would rather be at somebody's house with family and friends, but the dinner will be good."
"Maybe what we are doing will help them have a better Thanksgiving," said Missy Hughes of Westminster.
So much empathy from the pre-teens may be because of their reading list and their teacher Kathleen G. Booth, who lets literature inspire the children to good works.
Books can make students aware of the plight of the homeless, unemployed and needy, said Booth, who often reads aloud to her classes.
The class just finished reading "Jacob Have I Loved," a novel set in the Depression, by Katherine Paterson.
Shannon said she was not as aware of the problems of the poor until she read the book.
"The book is about poor families who have nothing to eat but fatty food," Shannon said. "But people helped them, especially one boy, and he grew up to be a really strong man."
Booth has read the class Dolly Parton's "Coats of Many Colors," the story of the famous singer's impoverished childhood, and "The Table Where Rich People Sit," by Byrd Baylor, which gave the children a glimpse of a wealthy but unhappy family.
"Books with short but really strong messages really appeal to kids," she said.
Once a month, two of Booth's five classes walk to Shepherd's Staff on Carroll Street and spend time on a project.
"It lets the kids see behind the scenes at what people can do to help the homeless," said Booth.
The students are at work on their next project for Shepherd's Staff.
They are collecting paper products, toiletries and household supplies for the blessings closet and making ornaments.
"We might even adopt a kid and get him everything he wants," said Christina Barker of Westminster.
Shepherd's Staff will serve dinner from noon to 3 p.m. today in the cafeteria of St. John Roman Catholic Church, 43 Monroe St., Westminster. Information: 410-857-5944.
Pub Date: 11/27/97