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Published on March 02, 2022

Eastern celebrates 15th annual Day of Giving

Eastern students serve food during Day of Giving
Eastern students, staff and faculty serve food during the Day of Giving.

For the 15th consecutive year, Eastern Connecticut State University served a special Thanksgiving meal to Willimantic community members in need. In past years, the “Day of Giving” event has been a busy time on campus, with 500-600 local residents visiting Hurley Dining Hall for a sit-down meal the day before Thanksgiving. Due to COVID-19, for the second year in a row the University partnered with the Covenant Soup Kitchen to distribute hundreds of Thanksgiving meals to Willimantic community members on Nov. 24.

The meals were donated by the ECSU Foundation and Chartwells Dining Services, Eastern’s food service provider. As in previous Day of Giving events, the food was prepared by Chartwells, with the foundation purchasing the turkeys. Other food was donated by Chartwell’s partners Sardilli, Calise and Curate Food. 

Five hundred meals were prepared. In addition to 250 meals delivered cold to local organizations such as churches and the senior center, Covenant Soup Kitchen staff and volunteers distributed another 250 hot meals to soup kitchen guests.

Day of Giving 2013

A volunteer serves a bagged meal from Covenant Soup Kitchen on the 2021 Day of Giving

Day of Giving founder Jason Bugahazy and President Elsa Núñez

Ellen Lang '81 and James Watson

All meals included microwaveable containers filled with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, gravy, cranberry sauce, a wheat roll, a slice of apple pie and a cookie. “Feeding more than 500 people is no small task,” noted Joe Salvaggio, Chartwell’s senior director of dining services. “This year we served 352 lbs. of turkey, 150 lbs. of potatoes, 500 dinner rolls, 10 gallons of gravy, 72 apple pies, 100 lbs. of green beans, 500 cookies, 150 lbs. of stuffing and 63 lbs. of cranberry sauce.”

“Since 2007, Eastern has provided a traditional, nourishing Thanksgiving meal to local families who might otherwise not enjoy the holiday,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “In past years, we have also conducted a food drive and donated thousands of items to the soup kitchen and local food pantries.”

Considering the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Núñez added, “I am pleased that we will again be providing a hot Thanksgiving meal for local residents. I know that the Town of Windham appreciates our generosity, even more so during these unprecedented times. I want to thank Vice President Ken DeLisa and Tom Piascik, regional director for Chartwells, for their continued sponsorship of this important event. Supporting the community has never been more important and I am proud that Eastern has stepped up again. It is not the same as having a bustling busy dining hall on campus, but it is the safe thing to do.”

“This means a lot to me,” said one soup kitchen guest picking up food on Nov. 24. “I have been homeless for about three years and have no one to cook a hot meal for me.” Another woman was collecting meals for her mother and a neighbor with a disability. “This is such a blessing. The soup kitchen is here day in and day out for our community.”

“Eastern is embedded in a community that we feel connected to, and some of the residents in the community have needs that we can meet,” said Patricia Szczys, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Eastern. “What better time of year to express our commitment to the community than giving back on Thanksgiving.” Szczys was at the soup kitchen to lend a hand in passing out meals to appreciative community residents.

The Day of Giving began as a community service project organized by Jason Budahazy ’09 and has been maintained since by volunteers with support from the ECSU Foundation and Chartwells. Proud that his legacy continues, Budahazy wrote, “One of the most difficult things to do is to ground a large group of people in shared values. For more than 15 years, Eastern’s Day of Giving has symbolized the values shared by the Eastern and Willimantic communities — partnership, service and community, regardless of one’s background or status. For that, I am forever grateful to be linked to these two wonderful communities.”

Eastern’s partnership with the Covenant Soup Kitchen runs deep. President Núñez sits on the nonprofit’s board, and student volunteers ranging from the rugby and ice hockey club teams to volunteers from Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE) regularly support the soup kitchen’s operations.

“Eastern has always been an incredible partner for us. CCE volunteers come multiple times each week — having them back is a huge relief,” said Kim Clark, executive director of the Covenant Soup Kitchen. “We are very honored to partner with Eastern so we can still offer the Day of Giving meal even though we cannot be on campus. People were thrilled to receive it last year and we are honored to do it again.”

“Our guests look forward to the Day of Giving every year and are very grateful,” echoed Jan Czikowsky, kitchen manager at the soup kitchen. “They come and tell us what the meal was like and how good it was. It’s a special treat.” 

“It is my hope we are back on campus next fall,” said Núñez in looking past COVID. “In the meantime, I want to thank everyone on campus who is part of the Day of Giving tradition. We have sustained it over time, despite COVID, and our local community is better for it.”

Written by Ed Oborn