Day of Giving Feeds More Than 500 Willimantic

Dozens of volunteers came out to feed hundreds of people who otherwise wouldn’t get a Thanksgiving meal at Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU) in Willimantic Wednesday.

The school hosted its 11th annual Day of Giving. About 50 volunteers served up 400 pounds of turkey, 150 pounds of potatoes and several other trimmings.

More than 500 people walked through the doors of Hurley Hall, including Greg Spinnato.

"It’s so pleasant. You get a free meal and it’s hot and it’s warm," Spinnato said.

The Willimantic resident has been attending the Day of Giving for four or five years now. He said if it wasn’t for this event, his family wouldn’t have a Thanksgiving dinner.

"My son’s a special needs child. I’m disabled myself. There’s been some rough times and this is really helpful for all of us," Spinnato said.

Angelica Otero’s sister is part of Early Head Start, a home-based program that helps prepare young children for school. Families often have lower incomes.

"It’s an extra day we get to say thanks to God and enjoy everybody for everything they do," Otero, of Willimantic, said.

Thea Oaks was in the food line, enjoying a Thanksgiving meal before she has to cook on Thursday.

"To be honest? I don’t have to work! I don’t have to cook! I can eat and enjoy myself," Oaks, of Willimantic, said.

The community event is a collaboration between Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement, the Office of Institutional Advancement and Chartwells, Eastern’s food service provider.

Food was donated by the ECSU Foundation and Chartwells. Chartwells staff also donated time to prepare the meal and decorate the dining hall.

The event also received 1,868 items from food drives at local grocery stores, raised $683 in cash donations and gathered even more supplies through collection boxes around campus.

The outpouring of community generosity was something special for students who helped make the day possible. Like Amber Schlemmer, an Eastern sophomore and student leader for the Day of Giving.

"People tell me, 'Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had a Thanksgiving meal,' and it really has a special place in my heart," Schlemmer said.

The day was also special for Eastern alumnus Jason Kyle, who started the Day of Giving back in 2007. He was in visiting from Oakland, California and said he’s glad the event has morphed into something bigger over the years.

"Now that I think about it, it’s not about your background or your socioeconomic status, it’s about an inclusive community event," Kyle, formerly known as Jason Budahazy.

All leftovers will be brought to Covenant Soup Kitchen in Willimantic.

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