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OCAT continues tradition of hosting Thanksgiving dinner for students left on campus

November 28, 2013

What began in 2003 as a Thanksgiving dinner by a starving MSU undergrad who didn’t have the funds to go home or buy food when the university closed down for the holiday now has expanded to a huge on-campus event and tradition ten years later.

“I didn’t have any family around so I stayed in the dorms and I didn’t know what to expect so I kind of starved for those days,” said Felipe Lopez-Sustaita, who graduated MSU in 2005. “I didn’t have any money and I couldn’t rely on my family — (I had) no cell phone, no nothing.”

Lopez-Sustaita, who’s originally from Texas, began his journey at MSU in 2001. After two years of starving in the dorms during Thanksgiving break, he decided it was time to make a change.

In 2003, when Lopez-Sustaita started working for the Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions, or OCAT, as a minority aide, he was able to request funds from different university offices. Lopez-Sustaita asked the university to fund a small dinner for students staying on campus during the Thanksgiving break so others like himself could continue eating when the dining halls closed.

The university granted his request and that year, around 40 to 50 students were able to have a free Thanksgiving meal consisting of Pizza and Meijer chicken.

Ten years later, the university, along with other various sponsors, funds the same OCAT Thanksgiving dinner Lopez-Sustaita started, with the event expanding each year. Students who stay behind were able to enjoy a free meal that included traditional Thanksgiving foods, drinks and a range of various desserts.

This year, the dinner took place in Wonders Hall multicultural room from 3 to 5 p.m. Thursday.

OCAT Student Services Assistant Juan Flores-Soto also was a student in 2003 and helped created the first dinner with Lopez-Sustaita. Similar to Lopez-Sustaita’s situation, Flores-Soto was unable to go home during the Thanksgiving holiday and had no money for food.

“This is a good opportunity for them (students) to get good food on Thanksgiving, and even if they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, it still gives them something to eat,” he said. “We get a good turnout, so we’re going to continue doing it.”

In recent years, MSU’s international student population has grown substantially and many are unable to go home for the short holiday. Flores-Soto said the dinner usually brings in around 150-250 students and those students are able to eat as much as they want.

Communication junior Younes Badaoui attended the Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday evening and was happy international students were given the opportunity to tap into American society on the national holiday.

“I think dinners are extremely important because on a day of family gathering such as Thanksgiving, most international students like myself feel alone or left out having to spend this day alone,” Badaoui said. “So, an initiative such as this one makes us feel more connected to the American community at Michigan State University.”

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