KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL) — About 500 people came together to celebrate an early Thanksgiving on Tuesday.

Students from Kingsport’s Palmer Early Learning Center enjoyed the 13th annual Thankful Meal with their families.

“We really do it as an act of service for our families,” Palmer Center Principal Suzanne Lewis told News Channel 11. “Lots of folks are working families and may or not, may or may not get the opportunity to sit down together as a family on Thanksgiving due to schedules.”

It takes more than just Palmer Center staff to make the meal happen, Lewis said.

The traditional Thanksgiving meal, with the notable substitution of ham from Phil’s Dream Pit in place of Turkey, was made possible in large part by Dobyns-Bennett’s culinary arts program.

Students prepared and served macaroni and cheese, corn, green beans, and mashed potatoes.

Culinary arts students said the opportunity to step out of the classroom gave them insight into the impact of their work.

“It also allows you to go out there and, like, see what your work, how it brings joy to other people and how they can enjoy what you made,” Senior Hannah Frink said.

Mother and Palmer teacher Stacey Bogle attended the event with her four-year-old daughter Emery.

Bogle said she’s watched the event expand from a handful of families in the gym at the Palmer Center to its status today, nearly filling the Civic Auditorium.

“It’s grown to be this beautiful thing over here with lots of people, all the families and communities, it’s just it’s been great to watch it,” Bogle said.

Aside from the delicious food, Palmer Center leaders say the meal aims to teach kids the importance of thankfulness.

“We’re just working to instill what it is to be thankful into our kids at a very young age so that they understand the importance of just celebrating what you’re thankful for, your friends, your family, and the things that we’re blessed with,” Lewis said.