Students, faculty, staff, and friends from several of the six University of Maryland schools in Baltimore gathered at Booker T. Washington Middle School to host the midday meal and provide free clothing and nonperishable food items.
It is a Thanksgiving tradition sponsored by the University Student Government Association; the Medical Alumni Association; and the School of Medicine Student Council. More than 100 students from across the campus participated in organizing and staffing the event.
In recent years, there has been a line of people stretching for two blocks waiting to get in when the doors open. In addition to serving a hot Thanksgiving meal, volunteers distributed clothing and donated goods at the dinner.
Donations included warm winter clothing items, shoes, blankets, and nonperishables, and volunteers provided large bags to carry away the clothing.
For the first time, free eye screening and blood pressure tests were offered to the community residents and there was a steady stream of persons being examined.
Faculty advisor Sheri Slezak, MD, a University of Maryland reconstructive plastic surgeon, said students were given six-pages of detailed instructions on how to cook the 50 turkeys for the feast. For some, it was their first experience cooking the holiday bird.
Again this year, the event attracted many volunteers from the campus and community.
Campus volunteers included Trish DiPaula, MSW, a clinical instructor with the School of Social Work (SSW), who has worked at Booker T. Washington Middle School for 17 years as part of the Social Work Community Outreach Service (SWCOS). She was joined by student Pamela Parnell who has a SWCOS placement at the school.
Among the community volunteers was the co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Tuberculosis Research, William Bishai, MD, PhD, and his family and the music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Marin Alsop, and her son, Auden, who joined the Bishai's son, Graham, in pushing the pie cart (see photo above).
Other community volunteers included families from the Kingdom Church International. Their sons organized and helped distribute items such as the shoes.
University President Jay Perman, MD, says, "I am very proud of the 20 years of service by the University of Maryland community who serve the Project Feast Thanksgiving meal to our West Baltimore neighbors and the School of Medicine students who collect donations and organize the event. This is another opportunity for all of our schools to collaborate and make an important difference in our community."
"We're proud that our medical students have taken a leadership role in this ongoing partnership to share the spirit of giving with our neighbors in West Baltimore each holiday season," says E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, vice president for medical affairs, University of Maryland, and John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and dean, University of Maryland School of Medicine. "Project Feast is in keeping with the School of Medicine's commitment to supporting our community in West Baltimore in a variety of ways."
Student organizer Yon Park (SOM Class of 2013) says, "I don't think there's any better way to spend Thanksgiving. We go to school here but I don't think most of us are familiar with the community around us. It is also a great way to meet some of the students and faculty around campus."
Another organizer Youngeun Cho (SOM Class of 2013) says, "My experience volunteering last year was really great. The amount of help and enthusiasm from fellow students this year has been amazing. We got a lot of volunteers, and we had a great Thanksgiving Day."
Besides this yearly event, students from the Baltimore campus of the University of Maryland are active in the community through tutoring programs and food drives for the homeless. Project Feast is a campuswide event that all students look forward to every year.