Northwestern Michigan College Students Help Others for Thanksgiving

"All of the families that are coming to pick up a package are in some sort of financially insecure situation."

Hundreds of people can give thanks this year to some local college students.

As part of a business class, students at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City took on the challenge of collecting food for families for Thanksgiving. But this class project is about more than just the students. It’s about their goal of helping 200 other students and families for the holidays.

Student Brandon Bugai says the class was a bit overwhelmed by their goal at first. “I don’t think any of us really knew what we were signing up for. And I think we are happy we stuck with the 200 number. We reached our goal, we went beyond it.”

On the NMC campus, it’s a course that’s teaching these students both in and out of the classroom. Instructor Kristy McDonald has been doing this for years. “I decided to flip the entire class and have it be experiential. So all their assignments are done through the real world project.”

Bugai adds, “We ended up with a grand total of 212 families that we were going to provide all the Thanksgiving fixings for them to cook their meal for their family and have a nice Thanksgiving break. In there, is everything they need to make green bean casserole, candied yams, their turkey, recipe cards. On top of that we’ve got boxes of mac ‘n cheese, applesauce, fruit snacks, granola bars, soda.”

Since starting school in August these students have collected donations for families in need.  McDonald says, “I think for me the rewarding feeling is teaching things outside of the content like empathy and compassion and civic engagement, not to teach just content area, but also to create just good humans.”

Student Cassidy Cowley says it’s been surprisingly rewarding. “Two or three months ago I was considering dropping this class. Because this is not for me. But now, my whole – it sounds cheesy but my whole life has changed.  This class is possibly the best thing that’s happened to me so far just because of the experience.”

And now Thanksgiving has changed for hundreds of people – supported not just by NMC, but by local businesses and grocery shoppers who made these donations. Bugai says, “Without the support we get from them we wouldn’t have anywhere to start.  Every single business we reached out to helped in some way, whether it was food or money.”  Cowley adds, “We could not have pulled this off without them. All of our donations, monetary donations, our food donations, our food drives that we held. It would not have been possible without the community’s support and that means everything to us.”

Anything they can’t use for Thanksgiving boxes goes right back to the campus Food Pantry. But the most rewarding thing is helping the more than 200 families in the Grand Traverse area. Cowley says, “Seeing these families and giving them their meal and having a conversation with them and hearing their stories. It’s really eye-opening. You never know what somebody is going through and this project has opened my mind to that.” Bugai agrees. “That’s probably the biggest reward, being able to see people, their smiling faces when they come up.  It’s really nice to have that personal interaction and to be able to tell them ourselves, ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ as we send them off with these meals.”

Cowley says she had a realization during the project. “I’ve been in this situation before. So I know they’ve got to be feeling maybe embarrassed, but incredibly grateful, incredibly thankful that they can have this meal without the stress of it, without having to worry ‘how am I going to have the money’ or ‘how am I going to do this for my family.’”

The project doesn’t end at the NMC campus. The students will be delivering more meals to members of the Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City and delivering meals to about 50 families throughout the community.