This time of year, students, faculty, and staff are rushing about preparing travel plans to meet with friends and loved ones. Kitchens are brimming with the scents of family recipes and the sounds of laughter as sneaky hands try to taste the Thanksgiving dishes before they debut on the table. Coming together to sit around a table with family and friends is a simple but very powerful way of making a pure human connection we try to recreate all year long.
The act is so powerful, it becomes an act of thanks in itself as we indulge in loving company, conversation, and familiar (and sometimes new) dishes.
It was through this extending of hands and pulling together as a community that on Saturday, November 10th our UMBC family, represented by the Shriver Center, Transportation Services, Off-Campus Student Services/Veteran Services, and alumni, joined forces with Tabrizi’s Restaurant, and a myriad of community partners to serve more than 220 military veterans experiencing homelessness. All came together to share the power of a community meal to value each others’ experiences, stories, and memories. Because in the end, it is not what we share or how we share, but more importantly that we take the time to share with as many at the table as possible.
Turning a meal into a movement
Michael Tabrizi, owner of Tabrizi’s Restaurant and wedding venue in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, understood the power of this exchange year-round from interactions with the vast number of homeless people around his place of business. Thinking about how he could provide the power of a shared meal, three years ago Tabrizi hosted a “Homeless Restaurant Week,” inviting those experiencing homelessness to the restaurant in lieu of hosting traditional restaurant week meals. He then started A Chef’s Table Foundation with an aim of one day opening a restaurant that provides training opportunities for homeless individuals. Last year, he hosted a Thanksgiving meal for military veterans experiencing homelessness. He served 162 veterans with limited transportation.
“All I wanted is to make the homeless people feel some dignity, hope, and believe that there is still much good in the world. The homeless feel forgotten; not acknowledged as a person, a life, a human being, and that is very sad,” said Tabrizi to Food Newsfeed. “I hope this will restore some respect and dignity. I owe that to them.”
When Hannah Schmitz, assistant director of applied learning and community engagement at the Shriver Center, heard about this vision she knew that it was an opportunity to do what the Shriver Center does best – leverage the resources of the university to connect with the community.
“I was speaking with Michael Tabrizi one night while I was at his restaurant and he mentioned these events and that transportation is the greatest barrier for getting people in poverty to come to the dinners. I kicked into work mode and thought about the resources that UMBC has and how we could potentially partner,” says Schmitz. Over the past two years she has volunteered as the event coordinator, managed volunteers, worked with organizations serving military veterans who are homeless, and spearheaded fundraising for gifts and raffle prize donations.
The call was heard far and wide. Along with other members of the Shriver Center, Daniel Teague ’96, interdisciplinary studies, associate director of transportation services, and Joe Regier, executive director of UMBC transit and community connections, provided UMBC shuttles to transport veterans from various locations. “Many people assume that UMBC Transit is just about buses and shuttles but they are really committed to community engagement and bridging the campus and community through transit,” explains Schmitz.
Antonio Silas, director of off-campus student services/veteran services, was also on board to engage UMBC’s student veterans and students from military families to greet, serve, and dine with the guests. And Winston Zhou ‘19, visual arts, volunteered his talents as a photographer.
“My mom is a retired Marine and my dad and step-dad are both former Marines, as well,” reflects Donnya Stagg ’19, global studies, who volunteered as a server. “Military personnel give up a lot and often don’t get much in return. I wanted to help veterans see how appreciative people are of their sacrifices. Giving my time at the dinner was one small way I could do that.”
Mary Slicher ’73, sociology, executive director and co-founder of Project PLASE (People Lacking Ample Shelter & Employment), was happy to participate in this special Thanksgiving meal. The Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training; The Baltimore Station; and Loch Raven VA Community Living and Rehabilitation Center also participated. Under Armour donated hundreds of clothes, hats, and shoes, making it possible for each guest could choose up to three items.
“There are vets who did not have a great transition out of the military. There are some who did not retire but who did a tour in Iraq but did not finish or finished and did not have the support, resources, and help that we have today,” Donovan S. Garrett ’19, business technology administration; undergraduate assistant for Veterans Student Services and the Adult Learner Network; and six- year active duty Air Force veteran, currently in the reserves., “It was so nice to be able to sit with another vet and have the time to connect and to listen to their experience and reestablish a human element, a bond, build understanding — that is the most important thing about a shared meal.”
Photos by Winston Zhou ‘19 for UMBC Magazine.