While many Penn students visit their families or travel to new places for Thanksgiving every year, some stay on campus for reasons ranging from financial burdens to high workloads. This year, however, students who stayed on campus had a better opportunity to celebrate the holiday than they have in previous years.
For the first time, the First-Generation, Low-Income Program at the Greenfield Intercultural Center introduced a new initiative for faculty members, alumni, and staff on campus to host students for meals during Thanksgiving break.
This is an expansion of ongoing efforts by the GIC and Penn First to provide meal options for students remaining on campus during break.
College sophomore LaKeisha Henley attended a brunch at the GIC hosted by two staff members from the College of Liberal and Professional Studies.
“The progress that has been made since last year has been good because last year there weren’t as many options,” Henley said. “Having the option to sign up to have dinner or lunch or brunch with a member of the faculty whatever on campus or off campus was really good. I think more things like that would be really beneficial for the future.”
In addition to smaller meals with faculty members, some students also attended larger dinners at the Kelly Writers House, Platt Performing Arts House, and Harrison College House.
Harrison hosts a large Thanksgiving dinner with Penn First every year, but the dinner at Kelly Writers House this year was made possible by a $1,000 donation from a parent to Penn First to host the dinner.
“It was really nice to work with the parent who wanted to be more involved,” said College sophomore Daniel Gonzalez, co-mentorship chair for Penn First, who said it was especially meaningful because the parent seemed to come from a FGLI background.
“With her experience, she very much sounded like someone who went through a lot of the similar struggles and life stories that my peers [and I] can relate to,” he said.
On the two days leading up to Thanksgiving break, Gourmet Grocer also provided free packaged meals to low-income students who were identified as "high need."
Penn First Secretary and College junior Lyndsi Burcham said this system allowed FGLI students to receive help without having to personally identify themselves to administrators.
Engineering sophomore Brandon Joel Gonzalez used this new program and said that, while he would have liked to be able to use his dining dollars over break, the service was helpful.
"What's nice is that they do have the program where you can get meals before Thanksgiving break," Brandon Joel Gonzalez said. "That helps out so you don't have to buy a lot over those days."
He also said he would not have been able to prepare the meals if he didn't have a kitchen, which was the case during his freshman year.
The initiative to provide more meals for students on campus over breaks comes as the latest in a string of efforts from students and faculty to accommodate the needs of FGLI students. In October of last year, Penn established a designated center for FGLI students — the second of its kind among Ivy League universities. This year, the University has also worked to provide specialized study sessions and less expensive textbooks for FGLI students.
Burcham and Daniel Gonzalez both said they were hopeful to see a similar meal arrangement made for the upcoming spring break in 2018.
“There's definitely a lot more options for Thanksgiving this year, but I also am curious to see what’s going to happen in the spring,” Daniel Gonzalez said.