Skip to main content

Slideshow Open Seat helps brighten students’ pandemic Thanksgiving

November 23, 2020

Many students look forward to Thanksgiving break as a time to see family, catch up on rest, and eat some of their favorite foods.

However, the way we celebrate Thanksgiving has changed with the COVID-19 pandemic. Many students have chosen to remain on campus instead of traveling home. Some continue to face economic hardship due to reduced hours at their jobs.

Both make enjoying the holidays difficult — and that’s where the Open Seat, UW-Madison’s on-campus food pantry, comes in.

Open Seat offered Thanksgiving-themed food boxes for students this year, with the option to select from a number of different recipes. Students could sign up to receive ingredients for green bean casserole, stuffing, cornbread, mashed potatoes, cranberry dessert, and pumpkin pie.

Almost 100 people signed up for boxes, serving 270 individuals.  A total of 483 individual recipe bags were prepared.

Open Seat staff and volunteers spent the weekend before Thanksgiving organizing and packing up food to be handed out to students this week.

Danielle Wendricks says going out to shop at Woodmans for $500 in groceries made for one of her “most exciting Friday nights of the semester,” as she and other students have spent so much time cooped up in dorm rooms and apartments.

“We didn’t expect to fill three carts full of canned goods in order to meet demand,” said Izzy Boudnik, external director of the food pantry. “While we are happy to help our fellow Badgers feel included in the holiday, but there is also a sense of concern that the number of students facing food insecurity is increasing as the pandemic wears on.”

Staff at the Open Seat have come up with creative ways to continue to meet the needs of students ever since the beginning of the pandemic.

Before March 2020, students were able to “shop” the pantry, located inside the Student Activity Center, and individually select the items they need.

The system has since adapted to become pick-up only, said Boudnik. Students in need of food submit an order form each week and then receive a pre-packaged box of food at an outdoor location.

But many students miss being able to pick out their own food. So, while brainstorming ideas for Thanksgiving, Open Seat staff decided to add an element of customization back into the mix.

After all the changes this year brought, Boudnik feels confident in Open Seat’s ability to adapt to different capacity rules and building hours during this unusual year.

“We are resolute that no matter what 2021 throws at us, we are committed to being there for students by whatever means necessary,” Boudnik said.

See more photo stories