Every year, students at the Exceptional Academy make a traditional Thanksgiving meal to thank first responders.
Exceptional Academy coordinator Susan Armstrong said the idea for the annual celebration, which she calls “Friendsgiving,” came about many years ago because students wanted a way to thank and show appreciation for Oak Harbor police and first responders.
“It’s student-led and student initiated,” she said.
It now has become a tradition for first responders such as the Oak Harbor police and Island County jail staff to eat a Thanksgiving lunch about week before the holiday at the Exceptional Academy. The meal takes place over a few hours so people can drop in when it’s convenient for them.
For students, the event is a great opportunity to learn new skills. They cook every single item from scratch, including cutting up bread into cubes for stuffing. Every item is also dairy and gluten-free.
Exceptional Academy, a part of Oak Harbor public schools, is a program for students aged 18 to 21 who have finished high school but need more assistance transitioning into adulthood. Exceptional Academy students have intellectual, cognitive and physical challenges.
Armstrong said the entire process is “eye-opening” for the students. From beginning to end, the planning takes about two weeks. It starts with recipe selection, then grocery shopping, decorating and, of course, cooking, which takes two full days and is planned out in a detailed schedule.
The Exceptional Academy has a full kitchen on site. The academy’s morning class does the cooking and the afternoon class does the cleanup. A total of 24 students were involved in this year’s Friendsgiving.
Traditional dishes such an entire turkey, cranberry sauce, roasted butternut squash and pumpkin pie were on the menu.
The students, first responders and Exceptional Academy staff sat around several tables and enjoyed the food and conversation.
Tyler Adamson is Oak Harbor High School’s resource officer. He is new to the job and this was the first time he had been to Friendsgiving.