On Nov. 21, Eastern hosted its sixth annual "Day of Giving" Thanksgiving dinner for community members who are patrons of local soup kitchens, senior centers and other social service agencies. More than 500 local residents enjoyed the Thanksgiving meal, which took place in Hurley Hall. In addition, $2,653 was raised towards food contributions to local food pantries, and more than 4,500 canned goods were collected.
Even though the meal didn't begin until noon, people were arriving at 10 a.m., and when the doors opened early at 11:30 a.m., the line was out the front door to Hurley Hall. More than 50 student, faculty, staff and alumni volunteered to serve more than 450 pounds of turkey, 20 gallons of gravy, 200 pounds of potatoes and vegetables and 400 pieces of pie, along with other traditional Thanksgiving fixings.
"This is such a special day," said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. "It feels like Christmas, doesn't it? You can just feel so much joy in the room, and it seems like the crowd gets bigger every year. It's truly become a celebration for our entire town to enjoy. One thing we tend to forget is that by serving this meal today, the staff at the Covenant Soup Kitchen gets the day off from their normal lunch preparations. They can take a breather as they get ready for Thanksgiving Day tomorrow."
The Day of Giving was started by Jason Budahazy '09 in 2007. This year, students Elise Davis, a senior from Warwick, RI; Elliott Woolworth, a junior from Bristol; Max Goto, a senior from Hamden; and Yollaine Kaja, a freshman from Naugatuck, helped coordinate the event. They enlisted community-wide support from the Windham school system, the Windham Housing Authority, and area nonprofits to get the word out to local residents. In addition to the Thanksgiving meal, a large-scale food drive took place in the local community as well as on the Eastern campus. Students from clubs and residence halls spent the past five weekends collecting donations at participating grocery stores including Ted's IGA, the Willimantic Food Co-Op, Highland Park of Coventry, Willimantic's Stop & Shop, the East Brook Mall, Main Street Café, the Lebanon Green Market, Wal-Mart and Bob's IGA. All food items were donated to the Northeast Food Collaborative, which consists of local food charities such as the Covenant Soup Kitchen, Access Agency, Catholic Charities and others.
"This has really become a community event," said Kim Silcox, director of the Center for Community Engagement. "This year, for instance, we had four people who had participated in the Day of Giving in the past as homeless clients in recovery programs return to us as volunteers, healthier and ready to give back to the community."
"Our clients look forward to this event each year," said Paul Doyle, executive director of the Covenant Soup Kitchen. "They have been asking about it since September. Of course, we see many of them each day for lunch, but this is a special meal just for them, a chance for them to celebrate a holiday with others. They are treated so well--it's a truly special day for them." Doyle also explained that the canned-goods drive helps the soup kitchen and other beneficiaries "get through the holidays and well into the spring. It really sets us up for the year." Doyle also thanked the Eastern students who volunteer at the soup kitchen on a regular basis -- 150 to 200 a month. "We could not provide the services we do without them."
Jacqui de Cormier is an Americorps VISTA staffed for the year to Eastern's Center for Community Engagement. Her job is to facilitate community service projects for Eastern students. A native of Bolton and a Stonehill College graduate, she plans to begin a master's in social work program in the Boston area next fall. "One women came up to me just to give me a hug and a 'thank you,'" said de Cormier. "I don't even know who she was. This event is another way Eastern is creating bridges between the students and the community. For me, it's a unique opportunity to help Eastern build relationships, and I am so proud of all the hard work our volunteers are putting into the program."