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ure Start Program teaching assistant LaVenna McCune helps pupil (and daughter) Ashlin McCune place a piece of “ants on a log” on a platter as Matea Herrera looks on Tuesday at Sasebo Elementary School. Ants on a log are celery sections, stuffed with peanut butter and topped with raisins (the ants).

ure Start Program teaching assistant LaVenna McCune helps pupil (and daughter) Ashlin McCune place a piece of “ants on a log” on a platter as Matea Herrera looks on Tuesday at Sasebo Elementary School. Ants on a log are celery sections, stuffed with peanut butter and topped with raisins (the ants). (Greg Tyler / S&S)

ure Start Program teaching assistant LaVenna McCune helps pupil (and daughter) Ashlin McCune place a piece of “ants on a log” on a platter as Matea Herrera looks on Tuesday at Sasebo Elementary School. Ants on a log are celery sections, stuffed with peanut butter and topped with raisins (the ants).

ure Start Program teaching assistant LaVenna McCune helps pupil (and daughter) Ashlin McCune place a piece of “ants on a log” on a platter as Matea Herrera looks on Tuesday at Sasebo Elementary School. Ants on a log are celery sections, stuffed with peanut butter and topped with raisins (the ants). (Greg Tyler / S&S)

Teaching assistant Jennifer Birkhead helps pupil Amaya Bentley show off the platter of “ants on a log.”

Teaching assistant Jennifer Birkhead helps pupil Amaya Bentley show off the platter of “ants on a log.” (Greg Tyler / S&S)

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Base volunteers here were hard at work early this week preparing food to be served at a potluck meal Wednesday to more than 2,000 Essex Amphibious Ready Group sailors returning from an eight-month deployment.

In addition to adults preparing turkeys, pot roasts and other elaborate offerings, 4- and 5-year-old Sure Start Program pupils at Sasebo Elementary School were lending their culinary skills, applying thick layers of peanut butter to celery stalks and topping them with sweet raisins to create “ants on a log.”

“This is our contribution to the ARG Homecoming Potluck welcoming them home … it’s a well-known project to use with kids of this age,” explained substitute teacher Jennifer Birkhead.

“The raisins, of course, represent the ants on a log, and the children are making fruit salad … mixing fruit cocktail with apples and oranges and things like that. Then it will all be transported over to the area where the potluck is planned,” Birkhead said. The food will be spread across a roped-off portion of California Drive from the India Basin to Bayside Food Court.

One pupil worked like a virtual ants-on-a-log manufacturing plant: Amaya Bentley hasn’t seen her father, a crew member on the USS Essex, since before Christmas, and wanted to make sure he and his shipmates had plenty of the dressed-up celery to munch.

“I also made a poster for him for when he gets here … ” Amaya said. “When I see him I will not be crying though, because I will be so happy.”

Second-grade teacher Beth Martin is coordinating the home- cooked food the school’s teachers and staff provided. The base was to send a vehicle to the school Wednesday to transport the food to California Drive, she added.

“It’s just been overwhelming how many people are planning to contribute from school,” Martin said. “I just sent one e-mail letting everyone know. The reaction was tremendous and people have been stopping me all week to let me know about the different types of dishes they plan to bring.

“You know,” Martin said, “we teach these kids 180 days a year … maybe it’s just me, or because we are on a Navy base, but we begin to feel more like family than just having teacher-and-student relationships. When a parent is deployed for so long, I begin to feel what the students feel.”

USS Harpers Ferry ombudsman Angie Hammell, a primary coordinator for the ARG Homecoming Potluck, also reported being pleased with the progress of the potluck preparations.

“To tell you the truth, this is going so much better than I thought it would,” she said. “We’ve just had an enormous response of food cooked for the potluck and it’s coming from spouses, civilians and from the schools — the whole community.”


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