WACO, Texas---In what has become a tradition at Baylor, the 3rd Annual All-University Thanksgiving Dinner brought more than 3,000 students, faculty, and family members to Fountain Mall for a time of good food and fellowship.
This year's dinner, co-sponsored by Student Government, the Baylor Religious Hour Choir and Aramark Dining Services, added an additional element to the traditional line-up of turkey, dressing, and pumpkin pie.
For the first time in the event's history, members of Waco's homeless population were invited to join in.
"We really wanted to make this Thanksgiving dinner something special," said Sophomore Class President Emily Saultz, who planned the event along with Sophomore Class Officers Abby Byrd and Mary Katherine Leslie. "Poverty is an important issue in our local community, and we wanted our fellow students to have the opportunity to interact with community members that face these challenging circumstances everyday."
Through a partnership with My Brother's Keeper, a ministry of Mission Waco, approximately 50 homeless individuals were brought onto campus for the event. Members of the Baylor Religious Hour Choir played host to the homeless, walking them through the meal line, conversing with them at the dinner table, and introducing them to other students.
Kristen Tekell, a junior and a member of the BRH Choir, enjoyed her interaction with Waco's homeless.
"The experience was truly eye-opening," said Tekell. "It's one thing to talk about poverty in the Waco community, but to see it with your own eyes makes it a life-changing reality."
While planning has yet to begin for next year's dinner, Saultz expressed a future desire to see even greater inclusion of Waco's homeless.
"The feedback I've received from students has been overwhelmingly supportive, and we hope this isn't the only time students interact with poverty in Waco," she said. "This event was meant to serve as a launching point, to introduce Baylor students to an issue in our community and to inspire them to get involved."
While Thanksgiving dinner may only come once a year, Emily Saultz and the other members of Student Government are hoping that this year's dinner will spark a conversation that lasts year-round.