Outsiders may consider it quirky that prison inmates are catering the Haxtun High School prom this spring in the farm town on the northeast Colorado plains.
But it's fairly routine for community groups seeking an affordable, but quality, caterer to turn to inmates at the nearby Sterling Correctional Facility.
"It's just quite common around here," said Darcy Garretson, who's both the Haxtun schools superintendent and the high school principal.
"It's kind of surprised me that it's drawn some attention. I'm just thinking, 'Wow, a lot of the community groups in the town use them.' It just isn't unusual," she said.
While this is the first time prisoners have catered the prom, they have catered a few National Honor Society banquets at the school and provide tasty cinnamon rolls at town functions, Garretson said.
Indeed, several small communities around Sterling rely on the prison catering service, which is supported by an inmate culinary training program, said Jeff Plumb, an agriculture teacher at the high school who helps organize the prom as a junior class sponsor.
"In a small town like what we are, there's not a lot of catering services," he said. "So they're one of the options that a lot of the communities use -- not just Haxtun."
In a tradition that's been around for the 27 years that Garretson has been at the school, the junior class honors graduating seniors by putting on the prom.
Both juniors and seniors, about 40 total students this year, attend the April prom.
Add in students' dates and parents volunteering as servers and prom organizers, and inmates will be preparing about 110 meals -- chicken alfredo, a side of vegetables or salad and cheesecake -- in the high school cafeteria, Plumb said.
No, the prisoners won't be coming to the school, just cooking the meal behind prison walls, Plumb noted.
Like many people in area towns, a junior student's dad works at the prison, and will bring the food home the day before the prom, Garretson said. School cafeteria staff will then reheat it for the Saturday prom banquet.
The prison charges about $8 per meal and the total prom cost is $15, which includes a picture frame bearing this year's "Jungle Jam" theme, Plumb said.
Junior students' parents act as servers. Parents also help construct the decorations for the prom, held in a school gymnasium.
Is the food good?
"That's why they use them," Plumb said. "Several of the students have had the chicken alfredo before through them and said they really liked it. They said, 'We ought to do it again.'"
Aside from who's cooking the food, Huxton's prom is a small town rite of passage with rich traditions.
"The whole community comes out for the grand march, which is after dinner and before the prom," Garretson said. "All the seniors and the juniors and their dates are introduced. Sometimes we get 600 or 700 people in a town of 600 ... come up to see the kids all dressed up."
"I grew up in Denver, so I know what their prom is like. And ours is just a whole different thing," she said. "It's cool. It's fun."
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