As the holidays wrap up, there are still thousands of homeless men, women and children living in shelters throughout Mecklenburg County.
That's why Charlotte Country Day School students in grades nine through 12 returned to campus Dec. 20 to host a luncheon for about 160 homeless guests from the Men's Shelter of Charlotte, The Harvest Center and The Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte's Center of Hope.
The annual event was planned by the upper school's Interact Club, an international service club sponsored by the Rotary Club North.
"It's really important for our students to see the impact of really going out to the community," said Dean of Students David Ball, 64, who's been involved with the luncheon since it started 20 years ago. "If we're not careful, we can be really isolated in our own world and own problems.
"It's important for us to be reminded there are other people out there who need assistance."
Country Day drivers picked up the women and children from the shelter in one bus and the men in another. Dropped off right outside the lunchroom, they were greeted by a line of smiling students. They then filed inside to fill their trays with hot food served by the students.
The school cafeteria staff volunteered to prepare the meal of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, roasted vegetables, green beans, salad, biscuits and fruit - all donated by Country Day's food service provider, Aladdin Food Services. The students brought enough baked goods for dessert to fill two tables.
Charlotte Country Day School's Head of School Mark Reed stood near the soda fountain, handing out napkins.
"Thanks so much for doing this," one of the men told Reed.
Everyone was seated at round tables with holiday centerpieces, where students waited on them - refilling drinks and bringing by plates of homemade desserts. Others students took care of the children so the women could have a peaceful meal and socialize.
And when they were finished, the men, women and children handed their plates and trays to a group of smiling students who washed the dishes.
"We're so fortunate to be where we are," said sophomore Megan Lewis, 16, who was on kitchen duty. "To be able to help those who don't get the same chances is humbling and a great experience."
The Interact Club at Country Day organizes a number of service projects throughout the year, including Special Olympics athlete-training sessions, walks for multiple sclerosis and juvenile diabetes, a toiletries drive for homeless shelters, a peanut-butter-and-tuna drive for Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina and more.
But the Interact Club president, senior Hunter Campbell, 17, said the luncheon is one of the most popular. More than two dozen students came to volunteer this year.
"Most of our projects are drives and stuff, and we don't get to see how it's directly impacting the community," Campbell said. "This is such a good way (to see that)."
Ball said he thinks community outreach like the luncheon is as important to the students' education as what they learn in the classroom.
"Hopefully as adults, they'll go into the community, and (today's) experience will continue to grow," said Ball. "It won't stop here."