Store's donation saves Thanksgiving dinner

As students in Marina High School's Endeavors program sat down to a turkey feast on Friday, they gave thanks for family, friends and a Thanksgiving meal that almost wasn't.

The 22-pound turkey, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole steamed on the serving table ready to be eaten after a Grinch-like burglary about three weeks earlier had nearly robbed the students of their holiday celebration.

Mike Rumford, a teacher in the special-education program, which is for students with autism, said his classroom and at least four other bungalows where the program is housed were broken into.

Nearly $250 donated by parents was stolen from a classroom drawer.

"It was a bummer because we thought we weren't going to have the party," said one of Rumford's students, Travis McPherson, 16.

With the meal date approaching but the money missing, Rumford wrote letters to local grocery stores seeking donations.

He took a letter to the Smart and Final on Edinger Avenue. The store manager, Mike McLean, forwarded it to the company's vice president of Southern California operations, Sean Mahony. Mahony, a friend of Rumford's, approved a donation of up to $300 in food products.

McLean said Mahony was able to expedite the process "to reach out and make sure the kids had their annual Thanksgiving cooking experience."

With the donation, Rumford and his students shopped at Smart and Final, and McLean said the goods — everything from a 22-pound bird to the plastic cups — totaled $286.13.

Jake Griffith, 17, a senior in the program, wanted to "think positive" about the break-in.

"I feel sorry that they lost the money, but as long as we have this, that's OK," he said.

With a digital fire crackling on the projector screen, and the smells of gravy and stuffing drifting toward autumn leaves hanging from the ceiling, the burglary seemed a distant memory.

The students had cooked and prepared the meal all morning, and as they gathered at lunchtime in Rumford's class, they could barely wait to eat.

"I like Thanksgiving," Jake said. "It brings everybody together, and that turkey looks like I want to eat it right now."

Rumford's crew — along with students from Darla Copeland and John Padden's classes — feasted on stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole. They finished off the meal with pies donated by parents.

Spencer Ravsten, 15, appointed head chef, was mostly responsible for cooking the turkey.

"I actually enjoyed being part of all the cooking experience, and I'm also definitely going to like being here eating at Thanksgiving with all my friends," the sophomore said.

The Endeavors program is "designed to meet the unique needs of kids with autism," said program psychologist Megan Clark.

Many of the students in the program excel in math and science, she said, but need extra focus on social and life skills.

Robert Rasmussen, a teacher on special assignment, said the Thanksgiving meal is a "project-based learning" opportunity.

The students had lessons on budgeting, shopping and cooking leading up to preparing the meal themselves.

Rumford said with the donation from Smart and Final, they were also able to buy a ham for their next holiday feast — at Christmastime.

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