WILLIMANTIC, CT (11/22/2017) Written by Jordan Corey
Eastern Connecticut State University displayed its commitment to community once again on Nov. 22 during its 11th annual Day of Giving. With approximately 500 local community members in attendance, Hurley Hall was packed with positive energy and a Thanksgiving feast intended for those less fortunate.
The Day of Giving is a collaborative effort, bringing together its sponsor - Eastern's Center for Community Engagement (CCE) - with a number of outside contributors in order to make it all possible. Eastern's food service provider, Chartwells, served a particularly important role, donating and preparing the food. Menu items included turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans, corn, biscuits - the list goes on. Guests raved about the meal's quality.
"The vibe is great, the people are great, the food is great," said Carlos Manguao, a longtime Willimantic resident. "You can't ask for a better humanitarian day for people that are less fortunate. Thanks to you guys, people have a place to eat."
Given Hurley Hall's recent renovations, there were 344 seats available this year, which is more than in the past. People sat close-knit at round tables and countertops, a family-dinner style generating thoughtful conversation and a wholesome atmosphere. "This is one of our biggest events," commented Ariel Thomas '17, special events coordinator at the CCE, as the crowd continued to pour in. "It's always a heartwarming project."
Approximately 60 volunteers from Eastern were present, consisting of students, faculty and staff, many of whom are familiar faces. "We get the same volunteers year after year," noted Kim Silcox, director of the CCE. "That's what's great about Eastern; everyone loves to pitch in and help with events like this. It's a tradition."
Eastern President Elsa Núñez highlighted the significance of a gathering like the Day of Giving in today's society. "In the middle of all of our country's division and tension, here's a community… If you look in the dining hall, people are black, white, Hispanic, old, disabled, young, and it just shows you that a community can come together," she said. "It's very rewarding to see everybody together in a positive way."
One Willimantic local of 30 years spoke of the day's worth. "I've been coming here since it started 11 years ago. This meal means a lot to me," stated Deborah Bouchard. She revealed that because of a serious car accident last year, she was unable to make the occasion. "I thought of this place when I was in rehab. So this year I'm really enjoying myself and I'm making up for what I lost."
For Amber Schlemmer '20, Eastern sophomore and CCE student leader, this was her first Day of Giving, and its impact did not go unnoticed. "I know that what we do at the CCE is really good and we help the community out, but this just makes me realize the extent to which we do that."
Also in attendance was Jason Budahazy '09, the man responsible for the event's fruition. Budahazy brainstormed the day in his junior year at Eastern, and recalled his outlook at the time: "It would be great if 10 years from now, we didn't have anybody show up," he had thought, hoping that the socioeconomics of the community would improve. Now, seeing that the Day of Giving is more bustling than ever, he views the event in a new light: "It's not about where you're from, your background, your socioeconomic status. It's about everybody just getting together as a community."
Eastern Connecticut State University is the state of Connecticut's public liberal arts university, serving more than 5,300 students annually at its Willimantic campus and satellite locations. In addition to attracting students from 163 of Connecticut's 169 towns, Eastern also draws students from 26 other states and 20 other countries. A residential campus offering 40 majors and 65 minors, Eastern offers students a strong liberal art foundation grounded in an array of applied learning opportunities. Ranked the 25th top public university in the North Region by U.S. News and World Report in its 2018 Best College ratings, Eastern has also been awarded "Green Campus" status by the Princeton Review eight years in a row. For more information, visit www.easternct.edu.