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MSU staff shares how ‘Homies Giving’ developed into Thanksgiving Day Unity Dinner

November 21, 2016
<p>Photo of past Thanksgiving Unity Day Dinner as students, adults and children come together to celebrate a traditional&nbsp;Thanksgiving dinner, Juan Flores is pictured far right wearing green shirt. Photo courtesy of Juan Flores.</p>

Photo of past Thanksgiving Unity Day Dinner as students, adults and children come together to celebrate a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, Juan Flores is pictured far right wearing green shirt. Photo courtesy of Juan Flores.

Thanksgiving is this Thursday and many students will return home to see family and rest up for the home stretch of the semester. However, there are also many students who won’t have the opportunity to go back home and spend time with family.

Whether it’s international students or students who live out of state, making arrangements to go back home for Thanksgiving can be difficult, especially for only an extended weekend.

For those who plan to be on campus Thanksgiving Day, there is an opportunity dedicated to you hosted by the Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions, or OCAT.

Celebrating its 14th annual unity fellowship meal, OCAT will host its Thanksgiving Day Unity Dinner this upcoming Thursday, formerly known as "Homies Giving."

MSU alumus Felipe Lopez was a member of the Office of Racial Ethnic Student Affairs, now known as OCAT, and Culturas de Las Razas Unidas, or CRU. He and MSU alumnus Juan Flores, primary coordinator for the dinner and an OCAT coordinator, came up with Homies Giving.

“Me and Felipe were peers, we were both students in criminal justice … and we were juniors at the time,” he said. “We were just good buddies with very similar backgrounds.”

Flores and Lopez's relationship grew better as they were in college and collaborated together for the dinner. He said he and Lopez were great friends throughout college and are still to this day.

“That’s my best friend now to this day, we were best mans at each other weddings and so that was like the beginning of a lifelong relationship between me and him,” Flores said.

Lopez lived in Akers Hall when he originated the idea in 2003. He noticed that many international students like himself were alone on campus with no money to spend on food and didn’t have a chance to enjoy a meal, due to most dining halls being closed.

Lopez decided to take initiative to order pizza for everyone in East Neighborhood and invited them to join him in an Akers Hall classroom. This gathering became known as Homies Giving Dinner.

Homies came about from a Latino cartoonist who began drawing characters that looked like people in his community, Flores said.

“Each figurine had names and identities, it was representative of the west coast, Latino culture,” he said. “During the time between 2001-2005, these figurines were very popular … and the cartoonist gave them all names and identities that represented his experience in the Latino culture.”

This became so popular that magazines started to incorporated the idea and include it in its magazine and comic strips. This lead to the cartoonist being given a deal to make figurines of all the homies, he said.

“During the time, all the Meijers here in East Lansing and Okemos they would sell them (figurines) in the bubble gum machines for 50 cents a piece,” he said. “Me and my buddy Felipe, among other Latino students, who come from low-income backgrounds from the inner cities … these figurines would remind us of our community back home, so we started collecting them.”

The term homies became an everyday word for both of them and that’s how it developed into the dinner being called ‘Homies Giving.’

Flores began taking over and coordinating the event in 2004 and the name changed to Thanksgiving Day Unity Dinner in 2014.

Flores said he and Lopez originally had the idea of keeping the name as what it was, but had conflicting views from administration and other management to change it once attendance grew larger every year and became more popular.

“We changed it just to be a little more inclusive because people didn’t necessarily know what homies was and the word 'homies' can sometimes be looked at and perceived to be negative, so we always had concerns from administrators about the meaning of the word and if it was exclusive to only one community,” Flores said. “So I made a decision to make it easier on ourselves, because we kept having that conversation every year about what the word meant.”

Flores went on to change the name from Homies Giving to Thanksgiving Day Unity Dinner to address all liability issues and questions he faced, as well as a chance to include Thanksgiving in the title to help students connect the event with a meal and holiday festivities. 

“We chose to change it so that all students can see the word Thanksgiving Day in the title and automatically connect it to the day that campus dining halls are closed," he said. “We wanted to make them think about the only place that was going to provide a meal that day (was the unity dinner).”

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There's a lot of history with the dinner and many different challenges that have been faced throughout this run, Flores said. But it’s all been for the good and all about the endurance of many positive moments.

“At the end of the day, its just always been about providing delicious food that’s cultural food, that’s diverse food — authentic, to students who cannot come home for the holiday,” Flores said.

This tradition has continued every year on Thanksgiving Day since 2003. The dinner has seen increased turnout every year and attracts a wide range of diverse groups.

“The turnout has gotten bigger and bigger and more diverse every year," he said. "It's forced us to be more creative with registration and check-in at the door because we noticed that it was getting real diverse and we wanted to know who these students are so that we can have data.”

Flores said that they have also seen increased community support, especially from the local restaurants that cater. Food will be served from Bob Evans, King of the Grill, MSU Culinary Services and No Thai.

With dining halls being closed from Thursday through Saturday, the dinner provides an outlet for students who will not be home with family to still celebrate a Thanksgiving meal with other students and engage in Thanksgiving fellowship. 

Something different this year is pre-registration. In order to help order the right amount of food, students interested in going should pre-register prior to Nov. 21 at midnight.

The dinner will be held Nov. 24 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Brody Square.


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