Eastern welcomes community for Day of Giving

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Willimantic - posted Tue., Dec. 3, 2013
Hiram Haggett enjoys Thanksgiving dinner at Eastern's Day of Giving event on Nov. 27. Photos by Melanie Savage.
Hiram Haggett enjoys Thanksgiving dinner at Eastern's Day of Giving event on Nov. 27. Photos by Melanie Savage.

Last year, 450 people were served at the Day of Giving Thanksgiving dinner hosted by Eastern Connecticut State University. About halfway through this year's event, on Nov. 27, Max Goto said, “We’re expecting even more than that.” Goto is with AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America), and as such is responsible for helping to coordinate special events such as the Day of Giving.

The project consists of two parts. The first is a food drive that takes place in the local community as well as on the Eastern campus. Donations are distributed to area food pantries including the Covenant Soup Kitchen and the Catholic Charities Willimantic Office. The second part of Day of Giving is a full-course meal, served to members of the Windham/Willimantic community who otherwise might not have a Thanksgiving dinner.

“It’s really a community event,” said Goto. “It really takes the community as a whole to make it as successful as it is.” Food for the Thanksgiving dinner is procured via Chartwells Dining Services from a variety of vendors. This year’s meal required 150 pounds of Brussels sprouts, 150 pounds of butternut squash and 200 pounds of potatoes, among many other supplies.

According to Senior Director of Dining Services Jason Coombs, turkeys went in the oven at 6 a.m. “It takes a full year to put this together,” said Coombs. “As soon as this is over, we’ll begin talking about next year.” At least 29 members of the Chartwells staff volunteered their time for the event, along with friends and family members, according to Coombs.

Helping to keep the event moving smoothly by completing tasks such as greeting diners and serving food, were Eastern students past and present, faculty members and administration. Other community members helping to serve included Windham Mayor Ernest Eldridge. And the Day of Giving "would not be possible without the help of several key professionals and crucial departments here at Eastern, such as the Center for Community Engagement (CCE); overwhelming support from the University; and especially the ECSU Foundation, Inc., without which this event would not be possible," said Goto.

Amy Gorman graduated from Eastern in 2011, and returned this year to attend the Thanksgiving dinner. As a student, she volunteered her time weekly to attend Lyon Manor, a continued care facility in Willington. Eastern students visit the facility to spend time with residents. “It’s pretty cool for them,” said Gorman. “Usually the students come to them, so it’s nice for them to get to come to the campus.”

Among the Lyon residents attending this year’s dinner were Rob Sawicki and his wife, Carolyn. This was their fourth year attending. “The people are awesome, we’ve got it made,” said Rob. “I think it’s great that they reach out to the community.” Carolyn was impressed with this year’s swanky transportation arrangements. “They picked us up in a Premier Limo bus,” she said.

Hiram Haggett was attending the meal for the first time this year. Going through a rough patch, Haggett wasn’t sure where he’d spend the night that evening. “Life is complicated right now,” said Haggett. But holding onto a steaming cup of hazelnut coffee, Haggett was content. “I think this is wonderful,” he said, describing friendly and helpful college students and excellent food. “I’m fine with everything. I’ll be O.K.,” said Haggett.

“This is why I like to work in Willimantic,” said CCE Director Kimberly Silcox, looking around at the busy dining hall. “This is such a true community partnership.” Silcox said that more than 1,000 Eastern students got involved through the CCE last year, providing more than 13,000 hours of community service. “Their Thanksgiving break has started already,” she said. “They could be home sleeping right now, but they’ve chosen to be here.”

Dylan Melady, a sophomore, is a CCE student leader. He currently runs a recess program for children at Natchaug Elementary School. “This is just something that’s great to be a part of,” said Melady. “We’re helping hundreds of people to get a great meal for Thanksgiving.”

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