Student group feeds homeless early Thanksgiving meal

Those who attended United Way's Thanksgiving dinner at the First United Methodist Church in Tempe were served traditional holiday foods from mashed potatoes to pumpkin pie Tuesday evening. (Photo by Vince Dwyer)

Dozens of homeless people lined up Tuesday outside Urban Outreach at the Tempe First United Methodist Church to receive a Thanksgiving meal.

Student United Way President Stefanie Taylor said the organization has prepared for this event since August.

Taylor, a psychology and sociology sophomore, formed Student United Way in September 2011.

“Our first year was about getting out in the community and creating events that impacted Maricopa County positively,” she said.

The organization partners with Arizona’s largest nonprofit organization, Valley of the Sun United Way.

“This is our first stand-alone event,” Taylor said. “We are very excited.”

Around 65 volunteers set up, cooked, served or cleaned for the 200 guests they were expecting.

They began cooking Monday.

“Urban Outreach is right here on campus, so it’s a great way to connect with the community,” Taylor said. “United Way works to end homelessness.”

To prepare for the event, Student United Way organized a food drive in September, trick-or-treated for cans in October and set up a canned food drive competition between the 13 Tempe residential colleges.

They also received turkeys from the nonprofit organization Waste Not.

Student United Way adviser Melanie Reilly said the volunteers included ASU students, family members and members of Generation United, a group of young professionals who do volunteer work.

“I help the student leaders with their goals,” she said. “One of the goals is to end homelessness and the other is to offer ASU students an opportunity to volunteer at least once a month.”

Student United Way partnered with Valley of the Sun United Way and the Diamondbacks Foundation to get students to sign a pledge to end hunger.

“For every person that signs it, the Diamondbacks Foundation gives a dollar,” she said. “The pledge means that that person is committed to raising awareness about the hunger issue in Maricopa County.”

Urban Outreach Program Coordinator Diane Onofrio said they were excited to work with Student United Way.

Urban Outreach offers showers three times per week and meals every Tuesday to help the homeless.

They also have a case management program to place people in apartments.

“It’s nice that students want to give back,” she said. “Our clients are part of this community, and this is a very good experience for the students.”

Charles Begay, who attends Mesa Community College but plans to transfer to ASU next fall, volunteered to cook at the event.

He heard of the opportunity through Facebook and signed up immediately.

“I figured I might as well come give to the less fortunate,” he said. “I’ve had a year I’m grateful for.”

Rev. Dan Hurlbert said the homeless feel comfortable going to the church for help. Even though it is a faith movement, the church does not force them to hear anything they do not wish, Hurlbert said.

“For us, the meal is the message,” he said.

Bruce Shelton, 27, goes to Urban Outreach occasionally to eat or shower and said this was a special event.

“I only take free meals when it’s necessary,” he said. “It’s wonderful to see that students are so nice.”


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