“Hey, who’s the man?!” Matt Nuttall bellowed as Jesse Jones walked into Taylor Elementary Tuesday night.

“I’m the man!” Jesse said excitedly.

They know each other. Nuttall, the elementary principal, knows Jesse’s mom, Gretchen, too.

“I like to go to all the school events,” Gretchen said.

She and her son were there for Taylor’s community Thanksgiving dinner. Or more specifically, a community dinner at Taylor.

It’s an important distinction to make. The dinner was for anyone in need of a well-cooked meal. The event with enough food for 1,000 draws people from all over Howard County, Peru and even northern Indianapolis.

“We have a lot of families that go without Thanksgiving dinner,” Nuttall said. “If we don’t take care of each other, no one will.”

Back after the a COVID hiatus, the community dinner also featured a coat drive, mental health providers and a selfie station.

“Matt’s vision has always been a school should be a community center,” Nuttall’s wife, Faith, said.

That vision was on full display Tuesday.

Nearly everything was donated from local businesses.

Cracker Barrel donated the green beans. Outback Steakhouse donated whole loaves of bread. The Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Kokomo covered the drinks. Hacienda (chips and salsa) and Prodigy Bar & Grill (wings) donated appetizers.

The only food Taylor purchased was the turkeys. Meijer chipped in a few, too.

Taylor schools hosted a free community Thanksgiving dinner. The event was open to anyone and everyone. 

First Farmers Bank & Trust reached out to the school about helping with the dinner after a Fox 59 news segment featured the event.

“We had more businesses reach out to us than the other way around,” Nuttall said. “It says we are moving toward the goal of a community center.”

Taylor set out to raise $4,000 for the dinner; they raised nearly $8,000.

More than half of the funds were spent on coats, gloves and hats.

Humble Home sold coats to Taylor for $1. The school district gave away about 800 coats.

With money left over, Taylor purchased 50 gift cards from Shoe Carnival, worth $40 a piece.

“If we raise money for the event, we spend more for this event,” Nuttall said.

April Pine, who works in Taylor’s central office, walked the halls of the school with a gift bag full of envelopes. The envelopes contained the gift cards. She handed them out to people she passed by.

“Here’s a gift from the school,” she said.

Taylor's community Thanksgiving dinner also featured a coat drive with more than 800 coats. 

Taylor staff — everyone from administrators and school board members to teachers and cafeteria workers — volunteered their time. They served food, greeted people as they arrived and drove buses to pick up those who didn’t have the means to get to the school.

“There’s not any paid employee here right now,” Renae Adams, Taylor’s business manager, said in between handing out desserts.

Adams wrote a grant that secured three semi-truck loads of disinfecting wipes. They were given away.

Cafeteria staff cooked all the food. They stayed late after school and came in on the weekend to make sure everything was ready for Tuesday evening.

“They have the biggest heart of any staff I’ve seen,” said Paula Bolin, food service director.

The cafeteria staff could have gone home after preparing food for 1,000 people. Instead, they stuck around Tuesday evening.

“They wanted to be the ones to serve the food,” Bolin said.

Gretchen and Jesse Jones sat down in the cafeteria. They had just checked out the coats. Jesse walked over to the dessert table.

As she waited, Gretchen remarked about how Taylor feels like family. She has the assistant principal’s number saved on her phone.

“They’re always there,” she said. “It’s not about Taylor. It’s about the community.”

Gretchen chooses to send her son to Taylor. They live out of district.

“He will not be changing schools whatsoever,” she said.

Spencer Durham can be reached at 765-454-8598, by email at spencer.durham@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at @Durham_KT.

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