Donations: The pandemic forced the event to transition from a family-style meal to a food giveaway. Courtesy photos

Santa Monica College’s GIVING THANKS(giving) donation program returns this year to provide food, comfort and dignity to students lacking homes for the holidays but the event needs to raise $40,000 in donations to cover this year’s expenses.

The day-long, drive-up, contactless outdoor event will take place, rain or shine, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the main campus located at 1900 Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica. Each student will receive their choice of a turkey or vegetarian protein, fresh organic vegetables including green beans, potatoes, carrots, onions, plus dinner rolls, a pumpkin pie, and recipes and online tutorials to help prepare the meals at their homes. The only eligibility requirement is current enrollment.

The event began with a family gathering. SMC’s Dean of Institutional Development Lizzy Moore said her family decided to forego the traditional celebration and instead invite students to their home who had nowhere else to go. The first 50 guests were a mix of homeless, foster and international students. The next year, the list grew to about 85 and then 100 the following year. However, the event was derailed by the pandemic so Moore branched out and hosted the first drive-thru food event.

Students were able to come to SMC’s campus and get a donated Thanksgiving meal with instructions and accompanying materials.

“That’s why this iteration has changed because of the pandemic, but it’s just as meaningful because it’s providing something they would not have,” said Moore. “And then last year, we also addressed the fact that those same students who were homeless didn’t have cooking facilities. So what are they going to do with a turkey? They can’t cook a turkey, they can’t prepare a meal. So we did a second day which we just tweaked, and distributed specifically to those audiences of students. And we served a hot meal, a hot holiday meal with all the trimmings to go.”

Both options are returning this year on Nov. 23 and 24.

“At Santa Monica College, an estimated 59% of students are experiencing food insecurity this year, and that rate is expected to increase as the pandemic continues and food costs rise at an alarming rate,” said Dr. Kathryn E. Jeffery, Superintendent/President, Santa Monica College. “The annual GIVING THANKS(giving) event is part of a comprehensive food security program portfolio intentionally designed to address the basic needs of all SMC students. Coordinating with the Santa Monica College Foundation, the college strives to remove barriers and provide clear access to basic needs security, such as stable, safe housing and healthy food.”

Moore said Year 2 of the pandemic program has evolved to account for some of the unexpected challenges experienced by students. She said many students lack a personal vehicle and transporting a bounty of holiday groceries by bus was an obstacle in the first year.

“So this year, we’re offering one way ride vouchers from the college home,” she said. “We’ll cover your ride home, no matter where you are.”

Officials said sponsors and community partners are vital to the event’s success.

“In 2021, nearly three out of five college students across the country lacked access to food, housing and transportation,” said Margaret Sohagi, Santa Monica College Foundation Board Chair. “We are so grateful for our supporters – generous individuals, businesses, and California’s state legislators – who continue to prioritize these basic needs of our students. Students should not have to choose between food and an education, which can translate into degrees and careers that can change their lives forever.”

SMCF is now seeking donors and sponsors to help cover associated food and operating costs. All donations are tax-deductible and will be used to provide a dignified and celebratory experience for the deserving students. Existing sponsors and donors include Jacmar Foodservice Distribution, SMC’s Associated Students, Suja Organic, Westside Food Bank, Whole Foods Market, Vicente Foods, Vintage Grocers Malibu, and KCRW 89.9FM. Donations can be made online at: https://santamonicacollegefoundation.org/thanksgiving.php, or interested individuals, companies and organizations can contact Cheryl Ward at (310) 434-4293 or ward_cheryl@smc.edu.

editor@smdp.com