Students Use Service to Give Thanks

Alternative Break Trip to Immokalee Deemed Success

Published: Nov 28, 2011
From left Colleen Crawford ’12 and Megan Olszak ’14 help prepare Thanksgiving dinner for more than 2,400 people who attended the annual Thanksgiving in the Park event.
From left Colleen Crawford ’12 and Megan Olszak ’14 help prepare Thanksgiving dinner for more than 2,400 people who attended the annual Thanksgiving in the Park event.
It was a nontraditional Thanksgiving for 10 University of Tampa students.

As participants in the PEACE Volunteer Center’s first Thanksgiving Alternative Break Trip, Nov. 23-26, the students headed south to Immokalee, FL, where the farming community is largely made up of migrant workers.

“A lot of the food we’re eating on Thanksgiving is coming out of their work,” said Lynsie Belanger ’12, an alternative break coordinator who planned the trip around the issue of hunger and homelessness for the many UT students who stay on campus instead of flying home during the short break. “Most everyone is stuffing their faces on Thanksgiving, but there are people who don’t have anything to eat. I wanted to open students’ eyes to that.”

The students stayed at the Immokalee Friendship House shelter and helped prepare take-out containers of holiday meals for the annual Thanksgiving in the Park event, hosted by the Guadalupe Center and sponsored by organizations from Immokalee and Naples. The students also cleaned up after the 2,400 people who came for the free meal, served picnic-style in a local park.

The following day, the students helped stock shelves and sort donations at the Friendship House’s thrift store, where the line of people waiting to shop was typical of any other Black Friday store. They also cooked and served meals at the Friendship House during their stay and visited with the other families and migrant workers who live at the shelter.

“This was the perfect trip because we got to do direct service, but there was also the cultural element,” said Belanger, a psychology major, who led a reflection exercise with the volunteers on their stereotypes of immigrants, which at the end of the trip were debunked.

Heather Ptak ’12 hasn’t flown home to Pittsburg for Thanksgiving since she arrived at UT as a freshman. She’d celebrate with friends or family in the area instead. As the head alternative breaks coordinator, it just made sense to offer a trip during the holiday. With this year’s success, she said she hopes to offer it again next year.

“During Thanksgiving in the Park, I had one of those moments when you’re looking around and realize that you made a difference in someone’s life,” said Ptak. “It was the best Thanksgiving I’ve had in four years.”


Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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