More than 60 students, faculty, staff and GCC Foundation board members joined forces at Gateway Community College to provide an early Christmas celebration to approximately 400 adults and children from area shelters.
Guests from each of the 11 participating shelters arrived at the fully decorated Church Street campus in busses and were treated to a full gourmet buffet prepared by students from the college’s culinary program, led by culinary arts professor, and event co-chair, Dan Palmquist.
The celebration also included toys for the children, as well as festivities with Santa and Mrs. Claus, face painting and music. Every child left with a gift; every adult received a gift bag of personal-care items, and all guests left with a Goodwill store gift card.
“Some years are more challenging than others,” said event co-chair, Susan Swirsky. “Last year, it was held on December 14, the same day as the Newtown tragedy, but we felt it was important to open our doors anyway because we couldn’t stand the thought of disappointing the children and families who were counting on us.”
GCC’s annual Neighbors in Need dinner is largely funded by the college community through donations and fundraisers. Transportation is donated by Dattco, groceries are donated by Claire’s and Elm City Market, and new to the effort this year, the New Haven Town Green District hosted a Dec. 6 Cookie Crawl fundraiser and Easter Seals - Goodwill, led by CEO, and GCC alum, Richard Borer, donated gift cards.
The annual dinner is the brainchild of culinary arts professor Andrew Randi, who established the event 15 years ago at the college’s Long Wharf campus. Since then it has grown to become the area’s largest event of its kind, and the number of guests has fluctuated with the economy. At the height of the recession, GCC hosted upwards of 700 shelter residents in one night. This year, the number of guests has receded to an average 400 – in keeping with most years.
“I am hopeful that this is a good sign,” said GCC president Dorsey Kendrick of the number of guests attending this year’s dinner. “But as long as we have homeless shelters that house our neighbors in need, we will continue our effort to spread a little holiday cheer."