Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It's a time to gather my thoughts and focus on what I'm grateful for. Yet this year there was a sense of unease in my heart. The wants and needs of those at SCC loomed over the campus. So many of our students couldn't afford to serve a Thanksgiving dinner to their families. Not only that, so many people in Spokane were homeless and struggling to have a Thanksgiving meal. Most days I knew all of this at a logical level. Yet somehow my heart couldn't rest this Thanksgiving knowing how blessed I was and the contrast in my life and theirs.
One club at SCC decided to help our students and have a Thanksgiving Canned Food Drive. They chose to make it a campus contest. That started the ball rolling. I set up my own contest in my four classes. We brought in four huge yellow plastic bins, and I challenged my four classes to compete against each other to see who could bring in the most food.
There were several conditions in the contest:
1) The class that brought in the most cans would get a party, and
2) I would personally match the total number of cans that the four classes brought.
Now mind you, lots of schools have canned food drives. What was different here was that many of my students are scraping to get by and bringing any cans would be a personal sacrifice. Many of these amazing folks needed food themselves.
We talked every day about gratitude, about what being a servant leader is about. We talked about helping the poorest of the poor, the homeless here in Spokane. After all, half of what we gathered would go to the SCC Food Bank, and the other half would go to the House of Charity in downtown Spokane. This is one of the places where Spokane's homeless would spend Thanksgiving. We talked about what goes around comes around and that giving to others who are less fortunate fills up your own heart.
Have I said lately that I have the most amazing students? Have I told you that they are generous and giving beyond belief? I have tears streaming down my face as I write this because I could NEVER, EVER have imagined the depths to which they would go to help others.
Several students emptied their own cupboards. Several students did extra jobs at school to earn money to buy cans. The huge yellow bins filled again and again and again. Our final total was 876 cans for the food drive.
Yet that was only part of the fun!
We decided to participate in making Thanksgiving dinner at the House of Charity. We were going to cook turkeys, bring down those cans, and help other SCC students make, serve and eat Thanksgiving dinner with those who are homeless.
Our first House of Charity run began at 4:30 am last Tuesday, November 23rd. Yes, you read that correctly, that was the day of Spokane's first snow "blizzard". At 4:30 in the morning we were gathering at the House of Charity, carrying our cooked turkeys through the snow in the toughest part of town. Our job was to peel potatoes, make green bean casseroles, and other traditional Thanksgiving dishes. Our meals would be serving hundreds of Spokane's poorest of the poor.
When I arrived at 4:30, the 4:00 crew was hustling and bustling. The meal would be served at noon and there was LOTS of work to be done. There were so many familiar faces, students I have in class, smiling, drinking coffee, and peeling potatoes so others could have a Thanksgiving meal. I will never in my life forget that sight. I had a blast working in the kitchen where we took the meat off of 27 home-cooked turkeys, putting light meat and dark meat in pans to be served to our new homeless friends. You should have seen the faces of two men who slept in a car outside of the House of Charity (all the beds were taken) when a group of chattering college students walked at 4:30 am on their way to the House of Charity kitchen.
And as if that wasn't enough, on Thursday, November 25th, Thanksgiving day, we did it all over again. Round two. More turkeys, more potatoes, and more amazing students. One of my absolutely favorite SCC students was at both events and even cooked his first turkey. He had been homeless himself a few years back and wanted to "pay it forward!"
So as I sit by the fire this Saturday morning , sipping my coffee and watching the snow fall, I have been thinking back on the last few weeks that have been filled with cans, contests, turkeys, students, and giving from the heart.
Was it a traditional Thanksgiving? No.
Was it one of the best Thanksgivings I can remember? Yes, it was.
Am I more than ever aware of all of my blessings? You bet I am!
It was a different kind of Thanksgiving this year, and it is one I will cherish and remember for the rest of my life.