Gracie Flach made a stop for coffee on the way out of class on Monday, November 22.
A text from her mom brought bad news. A family member had COVID-19, and she wouldn’t be able to travel home to Albany, New York, for Thanksgiving.
“I had a flight scheduled for Wednesday,” Flach said. “It was upsetting. I could’ve stayed with other family, but I didn’t want to risk getting sick and missing class or getting others sick.”
But the business administration major found her own welcoming environment on Thanksgiving Day at the Mary Graydon Center (MGC).
Flach was one of about 200 members of the AU community who received hot meals on Thanksgiving Day at the MGC from volunteers and workers coordinated by the Office of Campus Life, AU Alumni Association’s Pride Alumni Alliance, and Residence Hall Association. The annual tradition navigated its second year during the pandemic and followed university protocols to ensure safety.
“Supporting the Pride Thanksgiving dinner event is important to Christine and me because we’ve come to understand how serious the problem of food insecurity is generally, and in our AU family,” said Rob Johnson, former AU Alumni Association president and a sponsor of the event. “Students and our AU staff simply cannot reach their potential if they are hungry. Coupled with the challenges many face in terms of being able to travel home, or in having home be a safe and supportive place, the Pride dinner meets a huge need, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to help support it."
A good meal and a cup of hot cider welcomed her, but Flach equally appreciated the fellowship and the opportunity to meet new people. She ate with a classmate from Mongolia and said the MGC felt like a restaurant rather than a school building.
“I felt so glad and thankful that I am a part of this community,” said Flach, who is in her first year at AU after transferring from Loyola University Maryland. “When AU steps in and says, ‘We're here for you,’ they mean it, and during the holidays, sometimes support is what you need most....and so many people volunteered their time. That’s a really big sacrifice.”
Chartwells Catering provided the traditional Thanksgiving meal, but students with various dietary restrictions had other options. The main menu offered oven-roasted turkey and traditional sides with mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, sweet potatoes, and breads and muffins. Vegetarians could order meatless meatloaf with gravy.
The various partners for the event started making plans in late September for this year’s dinner. Last year’s dinner, which came with almost all students off campus for remote learning, drew around 100 participants who lived in the DC area or in emergency campus housing. Students picked up sealed meals and ate them outside of MGC. Meals also went to on-duty AU Police Department officers. This year’s event brought back a buffet line staffed by volunteers and allowed students to gather.
When Abolaji Omitogun came to last year’s dinner, he took his meal to go, but this year, Omitogun, a Kogod student from Nigeria, met with colleagues and made some new friends at the in-person event. He said students could share the moment and not feel left out. He ate lunch at a community table with other international students from Pakistan, Romania, and India.
“Each year for close to a decade we have held this important tradition recognizing that not all students at AU are to be with family or travel,” said Fanta Aw, vice president of undergraduate enrollment, campus life and inclusive excellence. “This is a time to remind that they are not alone and that their AU family is here. It’s always wonderful to spend time with our domestic and international students and provide a traditional Thanksgiving meal.”