OCEAN PARK - Happy young eyes and mountains of food awaited over 150 grandmas and grandpas at Ocean Park Elementary School's 11th annual Grandparents Day last Wednesday.
The school has been holding the event for over a decade as a way to include the elder relatives in the lives of their youthful kin. This particular get-together does not however coincide with the actual holiday itself, but they do observe it on the same day every year for a reason.
"We do it at this time because it seems to generate a wonderful crowd here at the school and the kids get to spend a day here at school with the grandparents as well," said Ocean Park Elementary School Principal Bette Arne.
She said that they always have the event the day before Thanksgiving break to take advantage of the fact that many grandparents are usually in town for the holiday.
This year marked an all-time high in attendance, said Arne. "This year was really crowded," she said. "We had about 30 more people than we anticipated."
Arne said that she estimated the crowd at around 350 altogether, with 145 of them being students.
"That's where we get our numbers from," said Arne, "145 - times two - plus a few."
Because of the growing number of attendants each year, the event - which consists mostly of a large buffet-style meal - has been moved out of the students classrooms and into the gymnasium.
"We felt that we really wanted to show a sense of community," said Arne.
So that there is plenty of seating available for the super-sized lunch, every available table and chair in the entire school was brought into the gym in preparation.
"It's a lot of work," said Arne. "We stay after school on Tuesday afternoon and we get this all set up in about an hour."
Carol Blank attended this year with her grandson Dillon Sharp, a third-grader. This year was Blank's first time at the annual affair.
"I thought it was wonderful," said Blank. "It's nice that the grandparents can come and see the school and see what the kids are doing. And it's great to have a meal with the kids and see them perform."
She said that she hopes she is able to attend again in the future.
Another tradition is for the students to go home with their relative following the meal. Many take this opportunity to see the child's class and the school.
Larry Clark browsed the halls with his granddaughter Megan Clark before taking her home. Megan enjoyed showing her grandpa pictures of her and her class in the foyer of the school.
"It was excellent," said Clark. "The food was great, the kids were great."
Despite the name of the occasion, the students do not have to necessarily bring their grandparents. If grandparents aren't available, a senior citizen that the child knows is invited to come instead.
Though it is a lot of work, Arne said that it is worth it and they will be doing it again next year.
"Every year we're in a panic over how we're going to fit everybody in here and seat everyone," said Arne. "And two days before we think, 'Oh, well all we have is celery or desserts.' But it's just kind of like a miracle, the food appears."