November 20, 2011

Students Prepare Thanksgiving Dinner for Owego Flood Victims

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With 12 turkeys, 42 pies and 60 loaves of bread, Cornell student volunteers served a Thanksgiving dinner to approximately 300 people Sunday in Owego, N.Y. — a town that was struck by devastating flooding in September.

Erin Keene ’12, Kit Dobyns ’12, and Lindsey Brous ’12 led the event, created to benefit the victims of the September flood.

The flood was triggered by rains that fell as the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee passed through the region. Owego officials estimated that three quarters of the village’s 1,600 homes were damaged.

“People were extremely grateful to have a hot meal and to have a reason to celebrate and come together as a community after such devastation,” Brous said.

The event took a month to plan, and volunteers spent about three weeks spreading word about the dinner to the Owego community through radio announcements, posters and personal invitations. Volunteers also went door-to-door to the neediest residents to extend the invitation, Brous said.

“We’re just really excited that so many different Cornell students got involved,” Brous said. “It was such a unique opportunity for Cornell students to come together for an event of this magnitude to provide service to others.”

The dinner was held at the Tioga Opportunities Center, which was chosen because many of the community centers with a kitchen in Owego were flooded, and, Brous said, “It is within walking distance of the people who are the neediest.”

Although most of the event’s organizers were seniors, there were students from each year and each college, and a recent Cornell graduate also came back to help, according to Brous.

“It’s also an initiative to get freshmen involved in making an impact on the community,” Brous said.

The event was sponsored by the Student Assembly, Cornell Concert Commission, Cornell Greek Tri-Council, Cornell Public Service Center, Cornell Hillel, and the School of Hotel Administration, so many of the student volunteers heard of the dinner through these organizations or saw the advertisements placed throughout the Hotel School.

“All of the food was purchased with the money the sponsors donated,” Keene said, adding that an especially large donation came from the Hotel School.

According to Brous, donations were also received from Collegetown Bagels and Maine’s.

In addition to the dinner, the student volunteers filled 30 bags with donated canned goods, and these went to the Tioga County Open Door Mission and the Tioga Country Rural Ministry to fill food banks in Owego for the holidays, Brous said.

The canned goods were collected through the Food for Flood Relief food drive on campus.

The School of Hotel Administration and Brous decided on the menu, and Keene and Dobyns were in charge of publicizing the event.

The Cornell Concert Commission also sponsored a band to perform during the dinner. It chose The Destination, a 9-member, classic rhythm blues and rock band.

Approximately 130 students signed up for 3 hour shifts to volunteer at the dinner, with shifts beginning at 6 a.m. on Sunday.

The student volunteers were assigned to various tasks throughout the day, from helping to cook the food, decorating the community center and filling bags with the canned goods.

Food was served from 5 to 8 p.m., and the student volunteers’ tasks during this period ranged from food runners and servers to hosts and greeters. The dinner was served buffet style, and Owego residents could come to eat at any time.

After the event, the leftovers were brought to homeless shelters in Owego and to the Sheriff’s office.

Brous added that for some residents of Owego, this will be their only Thanksgiving dinner this year, while others were asking for recipes because they thought the food was delicious.

“Some people were asking for pies to take home so they could heat them up at their own Thanksgiving dinner,” she said.

Cornell student volunteers said they enjoyed seeing how something as simple as a Thanksgiving dinner could have such a huge impact.

“It was such a huge success for us to see how meaningful it was to them,” Brous said. “It really could not have gone any better.”

Original Author: Sylvia Rusnak