Students and relatives enjoying Thanksgiving lunch last week at Pegram Elementary School were invited to share what they were thankful for by writing down their thoughts on leaf-shaped paper cutouts to be taped to a tree mural on the cafeteria wall.

“I am thankful for my family and my cousins and God,” wrote one student, Kimberly.

“I am thankful for how nice my family is,” wrote Brian.

“I am thankful for my mom, dad, dog and pizza and more,” wrote Annelise.

Back in the bustling kitchen, Lindsey Cook said she was thankful as well — thankful for the opportunity to serve the students and their families.

“It’s very rewarding. Their faces light up,” said Cook, the cafeteria manager.

There were a lot more of those lit-up faces than anyone anticipated this year.

“This is madness,” Cook said. “But we’re so appreciative, so grateful.”

It was a record-breaking year for Thanksgiving lunches served at Pegram Elementary, said Tracy Hopkins, nutrition director for the Cheatham County School District.

“This is way more than we’ve ever had at this school,” said Hopkins as she operated the cash register during the special lunch last Thursday and later ran a report showing 177 children and 147 guests were served.

They enjoyed turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing, green beans, gravy and rolls. Corn dogs were offered as an alternative.

The Thanksgiving lunch tradition a week before the holiday is provided in all Cheatham schools, though the elementary schools are the busiest, Hopkins said.

Visitors are asked to pay $5, while for students, the meal is treated as a regular school lunch.

Officials were unclear as to when the tradition started, but it’s believed that it began decades ago.

In any event, it certainly is showing no signs of slowing down. For the whole school district this year, there were 1,034 visitors served in addition to 3,714 students and 169 school employees, Hopkins said.

For Cook, who also volunteers at a food bank, Thanksgiving lunch is close to her heart. For the Cheatham County native, the day amounts to hosting neighbors for a holiday feast, and she’s grateful to get to do it.

“I love Cheatham County schools,” she said.

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