Skip to Main Site Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Back To Top

Eastern Hosts Largest Day of Giving Yet

Published on November 30, 2015

Eastern Hosts Largest Day of Giving Yet

Willimantic, Conn. – Eastern Connecticut State University hosted its busiest Thanksgiving celebration ever on Nov. 25 at the ninth annual Day of Giving. More than 620 Willimantic residents came to campus for a hot meal with all the traditional fixings, people who otherwise may not have been able to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner. In conjunction with the Day of Giving, members of the Eastern community donated 4,873 food items for local food pantries and shelters. “This goes to show that Eastern’s commitment to the community is not superficial; it’s very deep,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez.

“I don’t think there’s a nicer thing that any university could do for its community,” said retired Connecticut State Senator Edith Prague ’65. Speaking to the quality of the spread, she said, “The people get a full meal, they sit at a table with a tablecloth, they eat off nice plates and have regular silverware. I’m proud to say I graduated from Eastern.”

The Day of Giving is sponsored by Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE), which partners with the Covenant Soup Kitchen and other social service agencies in Willimantic that help to promote the event and provide transportation to Eastern.

“I’m so impressed,” said Avery Lenhart, shelter manager at Willimantic’s No Freeze Shelter. “To me, this is above and beyond. I recognize a lot of the people here. It’s amazing that the doors are open and this is free for the community.”

The Day of Giving usually serves around 400 community members. This year more than 600 attended. “This is the largest crowd we’ve had,” said Kim Silcox, director of the CCE. “We just really appreciate everyone who comes out to help serve, clean, provide buses and do all things that need to happen in order to make this a happy day for everyone.”

Speaking to the relationship between Eastern and Willimantic, Silcox said, “I think people know that we’re happy to be partners, to work together. This event is just about helping people to celebrate Thanksgiving, especially for those who otherwise might not have a Thanksgiving meal.”

Eastern’s fleet of Day of Giving volunteers.

The menu included turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans and squash, cranberry sauce, stuffing, rolls, salad and more. All the food was donated by Chartwells, Eastern’s food provider. “Chartwells and Eastern are intermeshed with the common theme of being community involved,” said Jason Coombs, director of food service. “We get a bigger turn out every year, which is a double-edged sword. You don’t really want the number (of people in need) to be that high. We start getting phone calls in September asking if we’re going to do it again. This shows that there’s a definite need in the community.”

Eastern students have a big role in the Day of Giving, serving food, escorting guests and cleaning up after the event. “We’re here today to give hundreds of people food to eat, to better the lives of the people in the community,” said Dajoun Jones ’18, a student leader with the CCE. “We have people here, less fortunate, who wouldn’t be able to have a Thanksgiving meal. They know they can come here and feel appreciated.”

“I come every year. It makes me happy,” said Willimantic resident Katie Ellis. “It’s wonderful what Eastern does for us. The school is important to the town.” Phillip Pisani, another community member, added, “The food is excellent. I look forward to this every year. The students are very courteous.” Annie Diaz, a local resident, said, “I’m happy. I got friends around. Seeing the people that need help, it’s a beautiful Thanksgiving.”

Recent Eastern graduate Lily Egan ’15, a former student leader with the CCE, attended the event. She has just returned from a cross country road trip, and said, “This is such a good thing to come back to. This is how I want to share the spirit and spend my Thanksgiving. The line grows longer every year, and the relationship between Eastern and the community grows stronger.”

The Day of Giving was founded by alumnus Jason Budahazy ’09 in 2007. He currently lives in California, but in his absence, his father, Jay Budahazy, attended the event. “I don’t think anybody ever anticipated this getting so huge,” said Jay Budahazy. There’s more and more of a call for it every year. This is probably the best meal some of these people will have all year. With the lines out the door, I was worried they were going to run out of food.”  Thanks to Chartwells and Eastern, food supplies did not run out.

The idea for the Day of Giving emerged from a familial competition between Budahazy and his sister, who would boast of her volunteerism at a hospital in Washington, DC. “’I can do better,’” joked his father, speaking from his son’s perspective. “People say one person can’t make a difference. I think this goes to show that yes they can.”

Written by Michael Rouleau