Harford families get much-needed Thanksgiving meal help from alternative education staff at Aberdeen CEO

Bags loaded with Thanksgiving food items wait to be picked up at the Alternative Education Program building in Aberdeen on Monday.
Bags loaded with Thanksgiving food items wait to be picked up at the Alternative Education Program building in Aberdeen on Monday. (Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

Aberdeen resident Deirdre Sykes is helping to provide child care for her son and three grandchildren — including assistance with virtual learning for her two older grandchildren who are Harford County Public Schools students — but she took some time out of her day Monday morning to pick up a donated turkey and other Thanksgiving meal supplies at the Center for Educational Opportunity in Aberdeen.

“It takes a village to raise children, and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” said Sykes, who noted that her husband was helping the kids with their schoolwork while she headed to the CEO building.


“I think it’s really nice that the school is doing this for the kids,” she said.

Sykes’ family was one of about 30 affiliated with the Alternative Education Program at the CEO selected to receive donated Thanksgiving meal supplies. The families pulled into the parking lot of the CEO building late Monday morning and early that afternoon, while Principal Rob DeLeva and members of the school staff brought bags of supplies to their vehicles.


“They don’t have to get out of their cars,” DeLeva said. “We just put [the bags] in their cars for them.”

This is the second year for the Thanksgiving meal giveaway, an initiative of the Alternative Education Program. The number of families assisted in 2020 is “almost triple” the number who received meals last year, according to DeLeva.

The giveaway happened as families throughout Harford County and the state prepare for a Thanksgiving amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced the closure of schools for in-person learning. That means HCPS students, families, teachers, staff and administrators all have had to adapt to virtual classes.

Students will be dismissed from class early Wednesday afternoon for the start of Thanksgiving break, then schools and offices will be closed Thursday for the holiday as well as Friday.


Meals were distributed to families affiliated with the Alternative Education Program, which serves middle and high-school students, as well as a few families from Roye-Williams Elementary School in the Oakington area between Aberdeen and Havre de Grace, according to DeLeva.

Students from the elementary school were able to use space in the CEO building while the school system was holding hybrid classes — students learning in school one day a week and virtually the rest of the time — in late October and early November before rising COVID-19 case numbers forced officials to return to all-virtual learning.

“It’s great to be able to help” students and their families, DeLeva said, noting that the youths are “our kids, and it’s more than just the academics — we’ll help in any way we can.”

The pandemic has created multiple challenges for Harford County families; in addition to schools being closed, many people have had to deal with lost or reduced employment as COVID-19 takes a major toll on the local, state and national economy.

“Everybody’s dealing with different scenarios at home right now,” DeLeva said.

Sykes said she is not currently working, although her husband, a Marine Corps veteran, and son are. She is planning to celebrate Thanksgiving with her husband, son and three grandchildren and noted the donated meal will be very helpful.

“It’s beneficial to be able to have that extra food in the house when you have kids there all day,” she said.

Bel Air resident Ashley Eagle pulled up with two of her three children. She is currently working part time cleaning commercial buildings, as her hours have been cut because so many people are working from home and are not in their offices.

“I’m just happy that there are people who are so generous to help us out for Thanksgiving — I’m very thankful,” she said.

Eagle will spend the holiday with her mother and children, including two boys and a girl. She said the donated food and supplies are “very helpful” in providing a Thanksgiving meal for her family.

“Without this, I wouldn’t really have been able to do a traditional Thanksgiving dinner,” Eagle said, noting that she probably would cook a “regular dinner” for the holiday otherwise.

“Sometimes, after you pay the bills it’s tough to get everything you need,” she added.

LaTasha Talley, of Aberdeen, said she thinks it is “a blessing” that the alternative education staff are able to help families in need for the holiday.

“I’ve had a rough year, and it’s a blessing to receive a gift like this to help my family,” she said.

Talley, a mother of four, is employed as a security officer. She went back to work recently, after being out since late June while recovering from ankle surgery, which she needed after being injured in a fall.

“It will be very helpful, very helpful; I’m overjoyed right now,” said Talley, who will prepare the holiday meal for herself and her children.

The giveaway was coordinated by Joe DiBasilo, community schools specialist for the alternative education program. He worked to find the families who need assistance, got in touch with them, plus he got in touch with donors, according to DeLeva.

The turkeys were provided by Restoration Tabernacle of Port Deposit — an alternative education teacher, Bernita Taylor, is affiliated with the church. The insulated bags used to hold the food and supplies were donated by Freedom Federal Credit Union, according to DeLeva.

Two local Realtors, Heather Adkins and Kim Letschin of Long & Foster in Abingdon, also provided last-minute donations of turkey roasting pans and multiple side dishes such as boxed mashed potatoes, canned vegetables and pumpkin pie ingredients, DeLeva said.

“It’s definitely the full meal,” he said.

Johanna DeLuigi, a pupil personnel worker for the alternative education program, was among several school staffers who helped DeLeva check in the recipients and bring bags to their vehicles.

DeLuigi recalled being out grocery shopping recently and running into some of the donors at the supermarket with several carts filled with supplies. Another shopper stopped and asked about all the materials they were buying — the woman donated some money to support the giveaway upon learning about the effort.

“It’s incredible how people can come together, and rise to the occasion and really want to help,” DeLuigi said.

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