Volunteers give back for Thanksgiving

By Cleo Gallagher, PeaceJam Southeast

On Tuesday, I joined dozens of volunteers at the Florida State University Student Union as we donned provided gloves and masks to pack turkeys and Thanksgiving side dishes for community members. More than 50 volunteers — including FSU and FAMU staff and students, TPD, FSUPD, and the Leon County Sherriff's Office — came together to continue the Thanksgiving Food Basket tradition.

Multiple volunteers organize and prepare turkeys to be packed
Photo / courtesy Bruce Palmer, University Photography Services

I moved here not long ago from Buffalo, New York, to begin graduate school at the College of Social Work at Florida State. The onset of the pandemic threw a kink in my plans, however, and moving across the country to start a new life in Tallahassee has proven challenging. Many of the students in my cohort and the university at large were not expecting to spend a significant portion of our academic careers on Zoom, which makes it hard for us to get to know one another and build relationships. FSU’s PeaceJam Southeast connected me to local volunteer events and became a great channel to make new friends and understand the cultural and social dynamics of my new home.

These events showed me how communities are adapting and rising to the challenge during the pandemic. Carlos Rodriguez, a fellow member of PeaceJam, shared what inspired him to join this coalition on a brisk November morning.

“As a result of COVID, many uncertainties have plagued individuals all over the community and I believe food should not be one of those," he said. "I wanted to volunteer because I could help residents from various parts of the community in partnership with volunteers from FSU, FAMU, and several local organizations.”

Five local nonprofits received and distributed the Thanksgiving boxes we packed with turkeys and sides to more than 200 local families.

Two volunteers pack a box with a Thanksgiving turkey
Photo / courtesy Bruce Palmer, University Photography Services

According to Dr. Brandon Bowden, associate vice president for student affairs, the process was revised this year to meet social distancing guidelines. This new assembly-style system of packaging not only allowed volunteers to comply with safety guidelines, but also to finish in record time (40 minutes!) – a revelatory success in otherwise challenging times that will allow the program to serve even more people in the future. Next year, the goal is to distribute 300 boxes to local families.

Thanksgiving might look different for many of us this year, but the opportunity to come together and serve the community was a positive way for me and many others to safely sustain the spirit of the holiday.

A volunteer prepares a box packed with a turkey and multiple Thanksgiving sides
Photo / courtesy Bruce Palmer, University Photography Services