A group of students from Stewart Middle School in Norristown, dressed as elves and shepherded by officer Steve Sowell, their School Resource Officer (SRO), arrived at the Central Montgomery Mental Health/Mental Retardation Center on Wednesday to serve an annual holiday dinner to the community.
The meal, served around 11 a.m., was open to those who looked forward to a holiday meal and those who spend their days not knowing when their next meal will be.
Sowell, a Norristown police officer who attended Stewart Middle School when he was a child, used to work at the center as a case manager. This is his sixth year as a SRO.
Both he and the kids enjoy the yearly holiday meal at the center. “I like reminding people every year – we’re doing good things,” he said.
John Jefferson from Norristown came on Wednesday to partake in the holiday meal, his second at the center. “I’ve been here before,” he said. “It’s very good.”
The kids and their parents love the idea of the kids helping their community, said Sowell. Last year boys from the school’s football squad came to help at the center; this year, girls came to help.
The staff, who volunteer to help the children prepare a vibrant meal of ham, turkey, stuffing and more, love this time of year with the kids.
Lisa Leh, a supervisor of peer support at the center, participated in her third holiday meal with the children on Wednesday. “I think it really adds to the holiday spirit,” she said, smiling as people took their seats and tucked into a meal with friends.
To prepare for the meal, the center staff started calling grocery stores over the summer. There was a great response, with Wegman’s, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s donating gift cards, among other stores.
According to Sowell, they try to encourage the students to volunteer, and the students respond. Here, when choosing volunteers for the annual meal at the center, it is a matter of choosing from the many students who want to volunteer.