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Fundraising Enables Sacred Heart University to Give 700 Turkey Dinners to Local Families

Meals were distributed at St. Charles Borromeo and Blessed Sacrament Catholic churches in Bridgeport

Students distribute Thanksgiving food at St. Charles Church in Bridgeport.

A spirit of charity, community and holiday jubilance visited two Bridgeport parishes Nov. 21, as a great number of Sacred Heart University students realized the culmination of their months-long Turkey Drive fundraising efforts, achieving the ambitious goal of distributing 700 complete turkey dinners to local families in need.

Four-hundred dinners were distributed to the parish of St. Charles Borromeo Roman Catholic Church, and 300 were donated to Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church. Distribution was made possible through the collaborative efforts of Volunteer Programs & Service Learning, Student Government, CrossFit and members of the basketball, wrestling and lacrosse teams. Sacred Heart has been partnering in this way for the past seven years, since St. Charles’ Sister Ann Moles collaborated with Arlete Carmona, SHU’s office and program manager for Volunteer Programs.

“I would not have been able to do this without Sacred Heart,” Moles said. “Yesterday, I had the most wonderful help—it was a miracle.” The volunteers who assisted her came from SHU’s basketball and wrestling teams; they oversaw the delivery, unloading, assembly and storage of all the supplies in advance of the distribution. The athletes provided the same assistance at Blessed Sacrament, to Moles’ counterpart there, Father Skip Karcinski.

Moles had been conducting the food distribution from St. Charles on her own since 1980. The collaboration with SHU has greatly expanded the community outreach that St. Charles and Blessed Sacrament can offer. In fact, SHU supplies a quarter of the meals for the 1,500 families St. Charles serves at Thanksgiving.

The University’s Turkey Drive is sponsored by the Student Government, led by Student President Taryn McCormick and facilitated by Student Committee heads Samantha Pignatelli, senior class president and Sarah Kosha, junior class president. Pignatelli said the Student Government exceeded its goals this year by raising about $12,000, which funded the purchase of one turkey and a bag of non-perishable side dishes from Price Rite for each of 700 families the churches chose through a lottery system.

With this year’s donations, SHU has provided complete turkey dinners to 4,760 families, with funds amassed through online donations, volunteer-run collections outside supermarkets, table set-ups at SHU, the Office of Alumni Engagement and dedicated fundraisers at Fairfield’s 16 Handles, Bridgeport’s Chipotle and Trumbull’s Panera Bread restaurants.

In addition to distributing the holiday meals, SHUDining also provided free cups of hot chocolate from The Kitchen Truck, which was parked onsite for the morning. The warming beverage was most welcome to the gathering, dressed mostly in heavy coats, scarves and knit hats.

Among the crowd was Angel Reyes, both a holiday meal receiver and site volunteer, who said, “It makes me feel like a better person to witness the gratitude people have. And I get to have fun and engage with people. That smile they give you when they receive their turkey speaks thousands.”

The effort aligns perfectly with SHU’s overall mission of service and, for participating students like Pignatelli, it offers a “time of reflection” and was “humbling.” Like many of her classmates, Pignatelli said she considered herself lucky to be able to go home to turkey on the table, when less fortunate families might be going without.

Kosha suggested the outreach and student enthusiasm separates SHU from other institutions. “It’s amazing to see. All these students could have gone home, but they chose to stay here. They want to help other people,” she said.

Annie Wendel, SHU’s new assistant director of Volunteer Programs, who was helping oversee the distribution process at St. Charles, echoed Kosha’s observation. “I’m very impressed with the spirit of our volunteers and commitment to our programs. Our office does a nice job of involving students on campus and in the community,” she said.