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Riverside turkey

Riverside Middle School counselor Tiffany Parish and associate principal Nathan Talafuse meet with Buck "Catherine" Stecher, left, and her children, Thor, Lillian and Jackson, right. On Monday Parish dropped off a box of food for a Thanksgiving meal for the Stecher family. 

When her kids’ guidance counselor came to her door laden with two boxes of food for a Thanksgiving dinner on Monday, Buck “Catherine” Stecher cried. She cried a lot.

The boxes were dropped off by Tiffany and Katie Parish, a mom-and-daughter duo who both work at Riverside Middle School, where two of Stecher’s children attend. The boxes couldn’t have come at a better time for the family.

The past month has been particularly overwhelming for the stay-at-home mom of three. At the beginning of November her father, who lives in Miles City, was diagnosed with cancer and transferred to a Billings hospital.

Her dad has been in and out of the hospital for weeks, with Stecher visiting and taking care of her dad. In between hospital visits her dad has moved in with her family, too.

All the small things started to add up. Stecher felt like she was drowning, she said.

“I haven’t been able to go grocery shopping, let alone take a shower,” said Stecher. “My husband had to take time off work so he could take care of the kids. I’m a stay-at-home mom but I was at the hospital all day and all night.”

Two of her kids, Lillian, 13, and Jackson, 11, attend Riverside Middle School. Her third child, Thor, 9, goes to Orchard Elementary School.

When one of Lillian’s teachers heard that the family was having a hard time, Riverside staff thought it was a good opportunity to give a little extra.

Something as little as groceries for a Thanksgiving meal felt like a huge weight lifted from her shoulders.

“It meant so much,” Stecher said. “It’s the little tiny things but it’s still so much. It was a breath of fresh air. Like, finally, a little break.”

The two boxes contained all the fixings for a Thanksgiving meal: a turkey, mash potatoes, mac and cheese and some canned goods and soda. There were also groceries to keep the family of five set for a few days after, too.

Every year before the Thanksgiving and holiday season Riverside Middle School works to bring turkeys to families, as a part of their “turkey slip” program.

The program rewards kids who are “doing the right thing,” said Riverside principal Kevin Kirkman. Teachers who notice a student doing a good job or acting kindly receive a slip for one turkey. Those slips, organized by grade, were drawn on Monday. Those drawn got a free turkey.

The tradition has been going on for almost two decades.

“I’ve been here for 17 years and we’ve had it the whole time,” Tiffany Parish said.

Turkeys are donated by retired Riverside faculty, and occasionally other community members, said Kirkman. Some years when turkeys are in short supply the school also matches the donations.

Parish often gets to be the one delivering the turkeys, a fun perk of her job, she said.

“I do look forward to it. I never mind spending those extra hours in doing that, the gratitude of the families is incredible and what that gives me back is pretty amazing,” she said.

Two families, one being Stecher’s, received food items in addition to the turkey.

During the winter holiday season the school also delivers gifts donated from community members and organizations.

In early December the school also hosts a sale during which children can “buy” gifts for their parents and other loved ones. During the same time Orchard Elementary School runs a similar sale for parents who may not be able to afford gifts.

Hard times might still be ahead for Stecher as her dad's cancer treatment continues and she takes an active role in his care, but she’s comforted by the caring staff at Riverside, she said.

“I know that if I need anything, I can reach out to these people and they would help me no matter what,” Stecher said. “If I needed my kids to stay late, they’d let them.”

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