Thanksgiving Dinner Provides a Homemade Meal Away from Home

group of thanksgiving day diiner volunteers on steps of ohio union

For many Ohio State students who live outside of Ohio, heading home for Thanksgiving Break isn’t always an option. Twenty-two years ago, two such graduate students, (Mr. William “Bill” Batson and Ms. Lori Waite) who couldn’t leave during the holiday, approached Larry Williamson, Jr., then assistant director of the Frank W. Hale, Jr. Black Cultural Center, about having a potluck Thanksgiving Day meal at the  Center. The students were encouraged by Mr. Williamson to distribute fliers on south campus to any other students who might be in the same predicament, offering them all a place to share a Thanksgiving meal.

What started out as a gathering of 25 graduate and undergraduate students at the Hale Black Cultural Center in 1991 now has grown into one of the largest Thanksgiving Day dinners on a college campus. Over the years, as more students participated – particularly international students – additional units have committed to sponsoring the event. Now the dinner is hosted by The Ohio State University as a Signature Event and sponsored by both the Hale Black Cultural Center in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and long-time partner, the Office of International Affairs.  Additional support is also received by University Housing, the Ohio State University Foundation, the Ohio State University Alumni Association, University Catering, U.S. Food Service, Coca-Cola, Transportation and Traffic Management, and the Office of Business and Finance/ Student Life.

The free annual event provides a Thanksgiving dinner for students, faculty and staff, and their families, who are unable to travel to home for the holiday.  This event has also become a place for diverse communities to come together for an educational and positive discussion about different cultures.

“Having had Thanksgivings where sometimes my own children were unable to come home makes me very appreciative that the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and our other university sponsors are able to provide this meal,” said Valerie B. Lee, Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion, Chief Diversity Officer, and Vice President for Outreach and Engagement. “It gives our faculty, staff and students who can’t head home a place to eat as well as allowing Ohio State’s international students and their families the opportunity to enjoy this holiday meal.”

This year’s dinner at the Ohio Union fed more than 1500 students, faculty, staff, volunteers and their families.  Nearly 200 volunteers from the university community – including Interim President Joseph A. Alutto – helped to serve the dinner, which was offered at two seatings: 12pm and 2pm. To get an understanding of the amount of food served, this year’s dinner included approximately: 120 turkeys, 432 pounds each of green beans and corn, 320 pounds of corn bread, and 120 pumpkin pies.

“Each year, this event has grown,” said Larry Williamson, Jr. “The first year, we saw about 25 students, the next year 50, and the year after, 150 students showed up. Since this event has become one of Ohio State’s Signature Events three years ago, we’ve served more than 5,400 participants, including the volunteers, who are truly key to making this event happen.”

Photos provided by Ira Graham.