Thanksgiving came early for families whose children attend Monroe Elementary School on West 4th Street in Davenport.
For the second straight year, neighborhood businessman Jeff West offered a full-course meal — and seconds to take home — for west end families.
He said it was an idea that just came to him.
“We’ve done pizza parties and summer movies, but we thought we’d try this and it’s worked out well,” West said. “I know what it means to me when my family gets together.”
West is the owner of Jeff’s Car Corner at 4th and Division streets. He said he wanted to do this two years ago, but “the superintendent then wouldn’t let us in the school.”
The new superintendent, Art Tate, West said, “has been very good.”
By 1 p.m. West and T.J. Schneckloth, the school’s principal, estimated they already had seen about 200 parents and children come through to eat and easily would surpass the 350 who attended last year.
“We should crush that number,” Schneckloth said, smiling.
The two men raved about those who turned out to serve the meals: “a John Deere pilot, a bank president and his wife, the head of the Bush company and his wife,”
“They were here at 9 a.m. and ready at 10, even though the three-hour dinner didn’t start until 11.”
They said the 25-some volunteers included all of West’s employees, but not the school’s staff or teachers.
“Jeff won’t let any of them volunteer to help,” Schneckloth said. “They can only come to eat.”
The food included turkey, mashed potatoes, dressing, gravy, green beans, corn, cranberry salad, rolls, water, soft drinks, and three different kinds of pie.
Teacher Sarah Johnson, of Davenport, ate with her family. “It was a wonderful meal,” she said.
West’s wife, Jan, decorated 23 tables in two rooms, while several kids decorated the walls with the Thanksgiving theme.
Schneckloth said that, with the economy being tough, many families may shirk the usual, costly Thanksgiving.
“This meal is to-the-tilt, pie and everything — cream on the top.”
Schneckloth added, “The families are asking us, ‘Wow, where’s this food from? It’s high quality!’”
West paid for the food to be catered by Jersey Grille, 5755 Jersey Ridge Road, a place West uses for his business functions and parties.
Catering manager Josh DeVilbiss said, “It’s nice to be involved in something that’s in the spirit of Thanksgiving, in partnership with Jeff.”
There are 500 children enrolled at Monroe, and Schneckloth said almost all of their families are below the poverty line and qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches.
West recalls that last year some families told him it was the first time that the whole group could afford to eat as a family.
“One family had never done that, and this year they were the first ones through the door,” West beamed. “It was something positive in their life instead of something negative.”
Participant Ralph Vega, of Davenport, said, “It’s terrific to eat and get together with family.”
Davenport’s Mary Brown said the meal was “very good — no sweat equity involved.”
Schneckloth noted that Jeff’s Car Corner is a partner with Monroe school, stepping up many times with materials or cash to help the kids.
West insisted that he’ll keep offering the meal as long as he’s around.
Maybe the most poignant moment was when one Hispanic family was writing out a thank you note to leave for West.
“The kids who speak English were doing the writing were going back and forth with the parents who only speak Spanish, saying, ‘No, no, no, say it this way,’ to show their gratitude,” Schneckloth said. “It was really cool.”