United Campus Ministry opens doors for a community-style Thanksgiving dinner

With Thanksgiving approaching, it’s safe to say that students at Ohio University have had the smell of green bean casserole and visions of turkey dressed with cranberry sauce on the brain for quite a while now. Not everyone’s situation makes it possible for him or her to have a bountiful, delicious Thanksgiving meal with family, however.

Senior, April Peterson stacks and organizes canned goods donated to United Campus Ministry. Photo courtesy of Sarah Franks.

Senior April Peterson stacks and organizes canned goods donated to United Campus Ministry. Photo courtesy of Sarah Franks

To make that holiday tradition possible for everyone in the community, United Campus Ministry has been providing a free Thanksgiving meal to the city of Athens since 1993. The mission of UCM aims to engage the Ohio University and Athens communities in spiritual growth, work for social justice and community service guided by socially progressive and interfaith values.

UCM offers a completely free meal to the public on the evening of Thanksgiving. They continue to offer a Thursday and Saturday lunch during winter break, including Dec. 25 and Jan. 1.

“Thursday Supper Thanksgiving represents the best aspects of the holidays, I think. It’s all about coming together and sharing a meal together regardless of who you are or your situation in life,” said Melissa Wales, executive director of UCM.

To make the meals possible, UCM depends on donations from Community Food Initiatives, The Farmacy and community members.

CFI is an Athens-based, nonprofit organization that grows their own fresh fruits and vegetables and also gathers monetary and food donations from the Athens community. CFI also offers cooking classes and training sessions to teach the people of Athens how to grow their own fresh foods.

“We rely on community members to donate financially throughout the year to our meals and our organization,” said Wales.

A lot of preparation is necessary to pull off the dinner. Volunteers work along with the interns at UCM to collect and organize donations leading up to Thanksgiving. April Peterson, a senior studying social work at Ohio University, is one of the interns who has given a lot of her time to help prepare the meal.

“Anywhere from 20-50 people typically show up for the Thanksgiving dinner Thursday evening, but there is no way for us to be sure exactly how many people to plan for,” Wales said.

The community-style dinner will serve a customary turkey dinner along with vegan dishes.  Peterson assists with baking desserts to complete the UCM holiday feast.

Thanksgiving dinner is at 5:30 pm Thursday.

Thanksgiving dinner is at 5:30 pm Thursday. Photo courtesy of Sarah Franks

“Many of them don’t get dessert very often, so it’s really rewarding to see them get excited about the meal,” Peterson said.

Volunteers are greeted with the grateful and smiling faces of those who come to the dinner. The meal is more than a community meal; it represents a gathering among people for good company and togetherness.

“For many people, the holidays can be lonely and isolating and we offer up a warm and welcoming space to everyone who comes through the door,” Wales said.

United Campus Ministry offers a delicious Thanksgiving meal to the public, but also gives to those who come to the dinner a sense of community and family.

The dinner will take place this Thursday, Nov. 27, at 18 N. College St., in the lower level of the UCM building at 5:30 p.m. The dinner is completely free to anyone who comes.

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