'Day of Giving' provides holiday meal at ECSU

Nov. 25—WILLIMANTIC — In the spirit of the holiday season, South Windham resident Linda Therriault helps those in need by driving them to Eastern Connecticut State University's " Day of Giving," as she did on Wednesday.

For those who don't have family or are poor, it may be the only Thanksgiving meal they will have. It was the 16th time Eastern hosted the event, which is open to anyone.

" It's generous of the college to do it," Therriault said.

The meal was served at Hurley Hall, Eastern's dining facility.

After the event, Therriault was headed to Generations Family Health Center, where the family planned to pick- up a pre- prepared Thanksgiving dinner for Thursday.

Therriault said it was " great" that Generations provides those meals.

Eastern alumnus Jason Budahazy, who graduated in 2009, started the Day of Giving as a student in 2007. It was a community service project that evolved over time.

The event is put together by Eastern's Center for Community Engagement ( CCE) in collaboration with Eastern's Office of Institutional Advancement and Chartwells, the university's food service provider.

" It's just really important to have a connection to the community it's in," CCE Associate Director Lana O'Connor said, referring to Eastern.

It was O'Connor's first Day of Giving as associate director of CCE.

The ECSU Foundation donated the turkeys and various vendors donated food.

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‘Day of Giving’ meal draws 300 people

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According to a press release from Eastern, 500 pounds of turkey, 150 pounds of mashed potatoes, 100 pounds of green beans, 600 dinner rolls and more than 550 slices of pie were prepared for the feast, which 300 people attended. There were two seatings during the event.

O'Connor said typically 400 to 700 people attend the event, but predicted that attendance was down because of the pandemic.

" I think a lot of people are still nervous about coming out," she said.

O'Connor said it was great to see the people in-person.

The previous two years, community members were given Thanksgiving meals in to- go containers at the Covenant Soup Kitchen.

O'Connor said students love talking to guests and hearing their stories.

" We had 28 student volunteers this year," she said.

Two of those volunteers, Sergio Reyes, a freshman who lives in the state of Georgia, and Michael Larbi, a senior who lives in East Hartford, were serving pie to guests.

"I just love helping people and being of service to people in times of need," Larbi said.

He said he felt a " sense of accomplishment" by volunteering at the event.

" I feel fulfilled," Larbi said. " I feel happy."

Reyes said the event is " very heartwarming" and it showed Eastern's strong connection to the community.

" I've been to other events and they seem very involved in the community," he said.

Eastern shuttles provided transportation for guests from Ashton Towers in Willimantic, Father Honan Terrace in Willimantic and the Covenant Soup Kitchen in Willimantic.

Windham senior center staff also provided transportation to the event.

Therriault brought Willimantic resident Maria Vales and her three young sons to the event.

Translating for Vales, she said that her friend thinks the food tasted good and " thanks God" for the meal.

" The students are so friendly," Therriault said, speaking about the student volunteers. " They're just great."

Follow Michelle Warren on Twitter — @mwarrentc.