To the sound of jazz music playing and dinner guests singing, more than 200 New Haven residents attended the second annual Hill Community Thanksgiving Celebration in the Hill Regional Career High School cafeteria Thursday.
The event was sponsored by Ward 3 Alderwoman Jacqueline James, the Vincent E. Mauro and Hill Regional Career High School Parent Teacher Organizations, and the Community Action Agency. Attendees were treated to a buffet-style meal James helped prepare, music by the Career High School Jazz Band and a singing performance by James’ father, Willard James.
“We can say thank you Lord for being here tonight, this is a great gathering here,” Willard James said.
Audience members sang and clapped to the beat as Willard James sang “Amazing Grace” and “Somebody Prayed for Me.” After Willard James’s performance, community members enjoyed a meal that included turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, a cornucopia full of fruit and cake.
State Rep. Toni Walker, who shared the meal with community members, said she admired Jacqueline James’s efforts in organizing the event.
“It’s wonderful to see all the kids and adults blending,” Walker said. “These are the things that preserve our community.”
Career High School Principal Rose Coggins said she was glad to host the event.
“It’s wonderful, it’s great to see the community come together in one place,” she said.
In addition to the meal, food baskets were distributed to those expressing need. The baskets contained vegetables, potatoes and some of the almost 700 canned goods collected during food drives at Vincent Mauro and Career High Schools.
Sean Hardy, the public relations director at Vincent Mauro High School, said this is the first year the high school has participated in the event. He said he hopes to continue the school’s involvement.
“This is what it’s all about, giving back to the community,” Hardy said. “Alderwoman James is doing her part in keeping the community together.”
Both schools also held raffles to raise money to help fund the event. Winners will be announced today and the top prize is a bike from Jacqueline James.
Before the meal began, several community members invited residents to join the Community Organization for Responsible Development. Grace Jackson, one of the youth coordinators for CORD, said the group is focused on giving residents a voice.
“New Haven is a city that is growing,” Jackson said. “But meanwhile people are working two to three jobs and the cost of living is rising.”
CORD, a grass-roots group partially staffed by Service Employees International Union members, is involved with community development and works on projects involving affordable housing and health care. The Rev. Scott Marks, a organizer for CORD, encouraged all residents to sign up.
“We are building a movement for change, we’re challenging people to dream,” Marks said. “Together we stand and divided we fall.”
Jacqueline James, a 1988 graduate of Career High School, said she was glad the people who attended were so diverse.
“It’s something that should appeal to everybody,” Ms. James said. “We want the community to help provide for each other.”
Binkey Reynolds, a Hill Community member, said she appreciated everyone’s efforts.
“It was very nice, the speakers were great, I just loved everything,” Reynolds said.