Close your eyes and picture Thanksgiving dinner. You might imagine the chaos of last-minute baking and the smells of turkey and fresh pumpkin pie.
Add more than 1,600 dinner guests, 200 volunteers, 10 weeks of planning and a mascot affectionately known as “Turkey Man” and you have Ohio State’s annual Thanksgiving dinner.
Ohio State will celebrate the holiday Thursday at the Ohio Union during its 26th annual Thanksgiving dinner.
Larry Williamson, director of the Frank W. Hale Jr. Black Cultural Center and co-adviser of the annual event, said this dinner mostly serves international and out-of-state students, as well as others who are not able to go home for the holiday.
The meal is traditional, featuring turkey, cranberry sauce, cornbread, stuffing, apple and pumpkin pie, as well as other items. Williamson said the menu has grown to accommodate vegan and vegetarian options, adding that organizers try to avoid pork in consideration of various religions, cultures and ethnicities.
The tradition started in 1991 when two graduate students came to him asking if they could have a small potluck with some colleagues in the Hale Center, Williamson said. He liked their idea and helped them put up fliers around South Campus as an open invitation for anyone to join.
Much to their surprise, the first potluck dinner yielded 25 guests, and Williamson said the tradition continued.
The event also provides meals to staff and students who have to work over the holiday, including University Police.
“Today, a program that started with 25 students serves almost 2,000,” Williamson said.
Guests arrive in two shifts and are broken into four sections, with a team of volunteers split evenly among each group. With the use of this system, everyone receives a meal within 45 minutes, Williamson said.
The leadership for the event consists of a small committee of eight to 10 people, including student co-chairs Imby Abath, a fourth-year in environment, economics, development and sustainability, and Anushka Mardolkar, a third-year in human development and family science.
Abath said one of her favorite parts of the event is seeing people enjoying a meal with friends who have become family on campus.
Abath also said the large population of international students provides a great learning experience and an opportunity for cultural exchange.
“Students who can’t go home really appreciate it because for them this is something new culturally, something they’re not used to,” she said.
A Columbus native, Abath said she is thankful for the opportunity to serve her fellow students, and invites other students to attend or volunteer.
“Come and have a good meal and be surrounded by other Buckeyes,” she said.
Both Williamson and Abath said the event would not be possible without the support of the Office of International Affairs, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, volunteers and other campus and community supporters.
The event is free, but all guests will need a ticket in order to attend. Seating for the meal will be at 11:45 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Williamson credited the Thanksgiving dinner’s success to its reflection of the spirit and cultural diversity of the university, and noted the importance of having the event on the actual holiday for those who aren’t able to leave campus.
“This is, for some people, their first experience of having a traditional Thanksgiving meal,” Williamson said. “For others it’s a place of home, of community and of family”.