Although Thanksgiving falls on Nov. 28 this year, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) sought to give thanks to the local community two weeks early as they offered their annual Thanksgiving Dinner across all three of their main dining halls on Wednesday, Nov. 13.
Kicking off at 4:30 p.m. campus-wide, the yearly event welcomed students, community regulars and newcomers out of the coldest day of the week and into special Thanksgiving-themed renditions of Holloway Commons, Philbrook and Stillings Halls, each offering a similar yet unique selection of holiday-themed entrees and desserts. All three locations offered traditional items such as roasted turkey slices, turkey gravy, homestyle stuffing and mashed potatoes, but also presented specialty items exclusive to each location. Holloway Commons, for instance, served up alternatives such as ratatouille vegan ravioli and crumb baked cod, while Stillings enticed their patrons with soups like pumpkin bisque and a “turkey bowl” stir fry.
Colette Lepkowski, one of Holloway Commons’ assistant managers, told The New Hampshire the goal of the yearly dinner is to provide UNH students with a Thanksgiving-themed dinner prior to their departure for Thanksgiving break, held this semester between Nov. 27 and Dec. 1. This year marks her fourteenth year overseeing the Thanksgiving dinner both at Holloway and at Philbrook Hall, where she worked for several years prior to her current stint at Holloway.
Lepkowski said that the Thanksgiving items are prepared no differently from other menu items due to most of them – with the exception of the stuffing – being regular offerings themselves, and how the only other major changes to the standard dining hall experience include more dessert options and specialty rolls in place of their typical bread options. She added that the Thanksgiving items at Holloway found a new home at its deli station this year due to an abundance of pre-prepared “smash burgers” and the early shuttering of the “burrito bar.”
Despite the more festive offerings, Lepkowski noted a “standard” and “steady” turnout this year but also highlighted “pushes” of students at peak dining times like 5:30 p.m., and 6:00 p.m.; she attributed these “surges” to students “all of the sudden” noticing the Thanksgiving theme and stations.
“Well that’s where our lines have been tonight…we set up two lines, obviously, at the main entrée line, and we had one over at the deli station, so that was helpful because it’s by the desserts, so I think they might have liked how they had a one-stop-shop,” she said with a chuckle.
Student visitors to the dinner shared in Lepkowski’s positivity as well Wednesday night, such as first-year English/journalism major Julie Merrifield, whose plate of turkey and stuffing topped with gravy, green beans, mashed potatoes and a specialty bread roll marked her first-ever Thanksgiving dinner at UNH.
Merrifield told The New Hampshire that while the food itself was “good,” she said she did not see much advertising for the event and only first heard of it the day of, calling the lack of advertising “kind of a surprise for me…so I was, like, very pleasantly surprised when I came in.”
“…I came in today at lunch, and they [the Holloway staff] were setting up for it, and I was like, ‘what’s going on,’” Merrifield recalled. Despite this, however, she ultimately called the event “adorable.”
“…I think everyone is nicer to each other and a little more friendly when we’re doing stuff like this,” she added.
Another student, sophomore nutrition major and vegetarian Alexis Potvin, also gave the event’s menu a warm response, but lamented its limited vegetarian options. Her plate included ratatouille vegan ravioli, cranberry sauce, green beans and a slice of pumpkin pie.
Dining faculty also joined in on the festivities, such as Gigi McNally, a Holloway Commons employee who works in the dish room and set out to try most of the Thanksgiving-themed items.
“…that’s another thing that makes them [dining halls] special, because people do come together, they enjoy each other’s company,” McNally, who has worked for UNH Dining for 25 years, said. “…here’s it’s like a family thing; we try to make it as comfortable for them as possible so [they can] enjoy the meals they have…[and] something to look forward to the following year.”
For Lepkowski and the rest of UNH Dining, that theme of unity carries over to how they channel the feedback of their student and community customers, mainly through “napkin notes,” direct conversations between students and staff, and a new initiative they held the day before at Holloway’s entrance called “Comments for Cones” in which students could submit written feedback about the dining halls to the dining hall’s general manager and head chef in exchange for an ice cream dessert.
No matter how they receive the feedback, however, Lepkowski stressed that UNH Dining see events like the Thanksgiving dinner as a response to what they believe students want as part of their dining experience at UNH, and to bring the student body, their families and other members of the local community together in new and delicious ways and to make events like the yearly Thanksgiving dinner “their holiday.”
“It makes me feel happy, for sure. It’s nice to see that people can come here and enjoy a meal together and not have to worry about cooking it or cleaning up,” she said with a laugh, “cause that’s what I hope for all the time.”