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Giving Thanks Around the Community

A blue Pitt face mask lying on a table surrounded by cookie dough and cookie cutters
Most everyone’s holiday plans were modified this year, but members of the University community are still finding ways to express gratitude, visit virtually and help others this Thanksgiving.

Some folks have opted to celebrate Thanksgiving at Pitt. That’s the case with students Isaiah Spencer-Williams, Samuel Copeland and Jahari Mercer, who live in the same house and will cook their own Thanksgiving meal while also making time to video chat with their families.

“We thought it would be best for us to remain here and get tested before we leave for winter break,” said Spencer-Williams, a second year PhD student studying civil and environmental engineering in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering.

The three said they are taking the time to achieve a semblance of normalcy while strengthening bonds.

“It’s finding ways to be creative and creating special moments with family and friends while adjusting to the pandemic,” said Mercer, a first-year Master of Business Administration candidate in Pitt’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business.

“We’re all trying to have a good time through all of this, and this would bring us closer together as friends,” said Copeland, a junior civil engineering major in the Swanson School.

Helping others

Others are taking the time to help their neighbors through the holiday season. Susan Fullerton, associate professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, said her family will make baked goods for some neighbors who recently lost some loved ones.

“We want to try and give them a little bit of joy on what will be a difficult day for them. It will be fun putting Mister Rogers’ message of being neighborly into action,” said Fullerton. “The show (Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) was really big for us—my husband and I grew up watching it. My daughters are now really into the spinoff show, ‘Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.’”

She said she wants her children to take opportunities to empathize with other people and try to help whenever they can. “Mister Rogers said to look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Brittany Rodriguez, a bioengineering graduate student, works with PITT STRIVE, a program that eases the transitions of underrepresented minority students into doctoral engineering programs at Pitt.

Every year since high school, Rodriguez sends a Thanksgiving meal to families in need. “I got to see firsthand people who weren’t able to get a meal for Thanksgiving and they didn’t have enough money to put food on the table,” she said. “Seeing that broke my heart, so I wanted to do the best I could to give people at least one thing.” Rodriguez says she encourages others to give during the holidays.

The Pitt Pantry offered another way to get involved with the special Wednesday distribution of Thanksgiving dinner kits to students who can’t go home for Thanksgiving this year.

Family, food and a side of Zoom

Here are a few other ways members of the Pitt community are celebrating Thanksgiving during these unprecedented times.

John V. Williams, member of the COVID-19 Medical Response Office, division director, Infectious Diseases; Henry L. Hillman Professor of Pediatrics and Microbiology & Molecular Genetics; director, Institute for Infection, Inflammation, and Immunity in Children (i4Kids): “Usually, we have extended family with 20 or more people from both sides and possibly friends. This year, it’ll be only immediate family. We were going to have the grandparents eating six feet away, but given the increasing cases, we canceled. We would rather wait until it’s safe to have family Thanksgiving sometime next year.”

Ann E. Cudd, provost and senior vice chancellor: “I plan to start Thanksgiving Day with a pre-meal run in Schenley Park. My husband and I are looking forward to trying some new recipes from NYT Cooking that we've been curious about for a while. At dinner, it will be just the two of us eating together—but we plan to Zoom with family members coast to coast. I'm also looking forward to watching the Steelers, reading and looking at photos from last year's Florida family Thanksgiving. We’d hoped to do that again, but we'll wait now for a safer opportunity.”

Everette James, interim dean of the Graduate School of Public Health, director of the Health Policy Institute, M. Allen Pond Professor of health policy and management and associate vice chancellor for health policy and planning: “The James family will be celebrating Thanksgiving at home in Pittsburgh this year with our daughters. Our daughter Katie who plays college golf recovered from COVID-19 two weeks ago and travelled to Pittsburgh on a direct flight from Dallas after testing negative prior to departure. We will be joining grandparents via Zoom for a Thanksgiving old home movie sharing and holiday toasts. Happy thanksgiving all!”

Beth Hoffman, research assistant, Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health: “Every Thanksgiving my sister and I watch ‘The West Wing’ and ‘Friends’ Thanksgiving-themed episodes before dinner, and that tradition will continue this year.”

Kenyon Bonner, vice provost and dean of students: “This year, our family will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day with the members of our household only. We will deliver Thanksgiving dinner (contactless) to our college student who lives off campus and join other members of our family virtually. My wife and I will miss seeing everyone in person but rest easier knowing that everyone is safe.”

Jamie Ducar, director of community engagement in the Office of Community and Governmental Relations (CGR): “Thanksgiving this year will be small and festive. Now that my son is two, he can finally start to enjoy and understand family holiday traditions. Speaking of new traditions, my family set up a Zoom game night Thursday evening after dinner. It’s been nice to connect more regularly and check in on one another. Additionally, CGR & Pitt Athletics worked together to support neighbor-led efforts to increase access to holiday meals in Homewood and Hazelwood. I’m currently brainstorming how the Pitt community can celebrate the holiday spirit in new and different ways.”