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Published on November 27, 2019

A Thanksgiving Feast for the Community: Eastern Hosts 'Day of Giving'

President Núñez with Day of Giving patrons.

The Day of Giving student volunteers.

Former State Senator Edith Prague serves turkey at the Day of Giving.

Willimantic community members and Eastern Connecticut State University staff and students gathered on Nov. 27 to share an early Thanksgiving meal during Eastern's 13th annual Day of Giving. More than 300 people were served at the event which was staffed by more than 50 volunteers who helped prepare food and carry out the event.

The Day of Giving is a collaboration between Eastern's Center for Community Engagement (CCE), the Office of Institutional Advancement and Chartwells, Eastern's food service provider. The Day of Giving, started in 2007 by former Eastern student Jason Budahazy '09. Turkey and traditional Thanksgiving dishes were donated by the ECSU Foundation and Chartwells.

Andrea Mcconnell, a staff member of Northeast Placement Services in Woodstock, came to share a meal for the second year in a row with Jake Shaw, member of Eastern's "Best Buddies" club. Best Buddies matches' student volunteers with persons who have intellectual disabilities to create mutually enriching friendships.

"It's a lovely and a great thing Eastern is doing for the community," said Mcconnell. "You guys cater transportation for people with disabilities, which is extremely important and when these sort of events are held, often people overlook that, so we really appreciate that." Throughout the event, Eastern provided transportation to community members within a 30 mile radius to and from their location.

Seventh and eighth grade students from Putnam Middle School also showed up to the Day of Giving to lend a helping hand. School teacher Betsy Goodell brought 20 students to help as part of a district-wide initiative to build positive behaviors within students. "The students really wanted to be here," she said. "The Day of Giving reinforces the notion of the initiative and provides students with a concrete opportunity to activate positive behavior. After coming here for three years, I can tell you that the results have been very positive and will be for years to come."

Students prepare pumpkin pies for the community.

Over the years Eastern has served more than 7,500 people on the Day of Giving and has had more than 700 volunteers help with the event. This year Chartwells provided 90 percent of the food served, with more than 100 pounds of fresh produce and 400 pounds of turkey.

Eastern President Elsa Núñez walked around at the event and greeted community members as they enjoyed their meals. The event has become a staple in the community and continues to aid Eastern in bridging the gap between the Willimantic community and the university.

"We've been here for 125 years, and I've always said that the university can't just sit here on top of this hillside and look down at the community," said Núñez. "Community members used to have a fear of coming on to the campus, they didn't know anybody, they felt that it was exclusionary and now people come for a cup of coffee, they practice on Eastern's track, they walk their dogs around campus and more. We've really tried to make it welcoming, because we feel that in part we are funded by taxpayers and these community members are taxpayers, too, and so they should get to use the university as well."

Chartwells Dining Services Director Joe Salvaggio also spoke on how crucial it is that Eastern carries out events such as the Day of Giving. "It's important for Eastern to show that it cares about the community. This is a great tradition, especially to see so many people coming back every year."

Kim Silcox, director of Eastern's CCE noted that many community members continue to look forward to this yearly event. "People are so grateful. We got calls starting in early fall, wondering if we are going to celebrate with them again," she said. "When we tell them 'Yes,' you can hear the joy in their hearts."

"This is the most wonderful event ever because some people would not have a Thanksgiving meal were it not for Eastern," said retired alumna and State Senator Edith Prague '65, who has been serving turkey since the first Day of Giving. "I am so very proud of my alma mater. No other college or university in the state does this. Eastern is the most wonderful institution in the whole state."

Written by Vania Galicia