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Nontraditional Thanksgiving feast gives back to community

The smell of turkey, baked rolls and pumpkin bars drifted through the Shepherd Union Building Thursday, where more than 100 nontraditional students gathered for a catered Thanksgiving feast in the Nontraditional Student Center. Students were asked to donate one can of food or $1 for the Weber Cares food pantry.

Debbie Cragun, coordinator of the Nontraditional Student Center, said she wanted students to get into the spirit of giving this holiday season.

“When you receive something, it is also important to give back,” Cragun said. “Students are learning to give as part of the holiday season. It’s not just a free meal; students are also passing along that giving.”

The tradition began four years ago, after many students expressed to Cragun that they had no place to go for Thanksgiving. Rather than invite them all to over to her own house, she said she wanted to build that community at Weber State University.

“A lot of students don’t have family near. They are either out of town, or they are single, and they don’t have a family to have Thanksgiving with,” Cragun said. “This is kind of their family, and it may be the only Thanksgiving meal that they get.”

The feast was also designed for students who frequent the Nontraditional Student Center throughout the semester. Cragun said she wanted to provide an atmosphere where students could chat with their friends and enjoy a hot meal.

Frank Ipsen, a single father and senior at WSU, came to the feast and expressed the enjoyment he receives from giving back. He said he wanted to support his fellow nontraditional students, as well as the community.

“I like to give back whenever I can,” Ipsen said. “I do anything I can do to support them and support the needy people in the community by contributing.”

The meal was buffet-style and students lined up for food on a first-come-first-serve basis. It was a casual atmosphere in the study lounge where students could pull up a seat, fill their stomachs and chat with those around them.

While the main-course meal was catered by Sodexo, students were encouraged to bring a side dish to share. Cragun explained that the purpose behind the idea was to help build community and give students a chance to share something of their own.

“It is more than just bringing a side dish to help with the meal,” Cragun said. “It really is a fun way for the students to share their traditions with each other.”

Some of the side dishes included green bean casserole, egg rolls, cherry pineapple crisp and ramen noodle cabbage salad. Tina Griffin, a freshman at WSU, brought a whipped lime Jell-O salad that she wanted to share.

“It is a salad that my mom started years and years ago,” Griffin said, “and we have continued making it. It is really easy to make: Jell-O, cottage cheese, Cool Whip and crushed pineapple.”

While the feast is a staple activity for the Nontraditional Student Center, it added something new into the mix this year. Each student who brought a side dish was entered into a drawing for a $50 gift card to Macey’s. The card could be used to purchase a Thanksgiving meal or regular groceries.

Cragun said she hopes the tradition will continue for many years to come, because the event is a favorite for the staff and the students who attend.

“It is really rewarding for us as staff to have that kind of community and interaction with the students,” Cragun said. “It is  rewarding to feel like you are providing a meal to somebody who otherwise wouldn’t have it.”

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