Students Give Back During Thanksgiving Break

Rather than fly home to Saudi Arabia to spend Thanksgiving with his family, Ghassan S. Gammoh ’14 spent his Thanksgiving at the Harvard Square Homeless Shelter. He and 25 other students from Harvard, Wellesley, Tufts and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst came together over the course of the holiday to cook, feed, and spend time with some of Harvard Square’s homeless residents.

The shelter, normally open from 7:00 p.m. until 8:00 a.m. each night, kept its doors open the entire day, serving homemade chili for lunch, a pancake breakfast, and a dinner that included two turkeys.

“It was a really rewarding experience,” said Gammoh, who cleaned dishes and talked with many of the guests. “It was so great that everyone got a meal on Thanksgiving.”

This year, the shelter saw several other members of the community in Cambridge pitch in. A local family came out to prepare a homemade chili for lunch, while several other volunteers from a local church pitched in to prepare the Thanksgiving feast, which, according to Mateus C. Falci ’14, was a big hit with the shelter’s visitors.

“It’s nice to be able to stay all day,” said Falci, who supervised many of the day’s volunteers. “We’re able to sit and chat with the guests. Everyone gets to be happy.”

The Harvard Square Homeless Shelter is the only completely student-run homeless shelter in the country, and has a long history of bringing Harvard students in touch with Cambridge’s large homeless population.

“I got to talk to one of the men about being Arab, and we talked about the issues and differences between there and here, the politics, and the revolutions,” said Gammoh. “I was excited he was so interested. Being international brought some interesting discussions.”

Lauren M. Mitchell ’12 spent the morning preparing pancakes for that day’s visitors and said that volunteering at the shelter seemed like the right way to be spending Thanksgiving.

“I thought it would be a good thing to do, sort of passing the thankfulness along,” she said. “It felt really nice to be able to give back since I have so much to be thankful for.”

The holiday saw the shelter inundated with donations of food, and at Thanksgiving’s end the shelter was left with an excess of food, which Falci called “an awesome problem” for a homeless shelter.

“We have more pies than we know what to do with!” he said.

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