Transforming Tradition

Celebrating The 25th Annual Thanksgiving Food Drive

by Jady Ojiri, Office of Development Communications

In 1995, the inaugural Thanksgiving Food Drive was created to demonstrate USF’s support for communities in need throughout the greater San Francisco area. Today, the university community carries on its beloved tradition 25 years later.

A Holiday of Giving

The program was established by USF’s Alumni Board of Governors, who are now known as the Alumni Board of Directors. Initially, they gathered canned food donations from faculty, staff, and students and distributed those resources to local families in need. 

It began as an act of community service to USF’s neighbors in the Western Addition community, most of whom were members of the Sacred Heart Parish. The Board of Governors invited the parish priest to identify the first two dozen families who would be given Thanksgiving food baskets that year.

According to Kevin Leong ’70, MHROD ’93, USF’s associate director of alumni relations, “Campus generosity grew each year. More volunteers, usually over 100, were needed to purchase the food, assemble the baskets, and carry out the deliveries.”  

Fostering Growing Support

In response to the overwhelming level of generosity, the Board of Governors decided to change their strategy and began requesting monetary donations instead of canned goods. 

Through this process, the committee was able to purchase the exact number of components for each food basket, including turkeys, stuffing mix, potatoes, canned vegetables, bread, and pumpkin pie.

Volunteers would order food in advance, pick up the items, and deliver the baskets to selected households on the Saturday morning before Thanksgiving. Each basket also included a printed prayer and a well wish from the university. 

Depending on how much funding was gathered for the year, the Thanksgiving Food Drive was able to serve as many as 200 families. In fact, in 2019 they distributed 175 food baskets. 

Keeping The Tradition Going Strong

2020 has proven to be a year unlike any other. In spite of the many obstacles, the Thanksgiving Food Drive has continued on for its 25th straight year. 

This year’s initiative was led by Darlene Isola ’73, MA ’79, Kevin Hanley ’71, David Philpott ’93, MA '97, and Kevin Leong. All were original members of USF’s Alumni Board of Governors. 

“In a year where so many people are struggling — our campus is closed, volunteer safety is paramount, and fundraising efforts are many, competing, and challenged — the Thanksgiving Food Drive committee decided to try to at least make some small contribution and not break the 25-year string of efforts,” Leong said. 

So, as the program has done in previous years, the Thanksgiving Food Drive has adapted to changing circumstances. This year, the program carried on in an “abbreviated” fashion, according to Leong. It was supported using leftover funds raised during 2019 alongside a few volunteer donations. 

The annual program partnered with San Francisco Groceries For Seniors, a non-profit organization that delivers more than 1,300 bags of free groceries to elderly communities in the Western Addition, Tenderloin, and Chinatown area each week. 

The program also collaborated with the Lucky Store at Fulton and Masonic to add 1,000 chickens to the grocery bags delivered during Thanksgiving week. 

Through these food contributions, the USF Thanksgiving Food Drive has been able to carry on despite the many challenges. 

“The original intent and mission of the Thanksgiving Food Drive, instilled by our USF teachings and experiences, have a greater meaning in 2020,” Leong said. 

Since its inception in 1995, the Thanksgiving Food Drive has kept tradition running in the face of all the global shifts that have transpired over the past 25 years. 

Even though the annual program has undergone so much change, USF’s mission to help others and create positive change has stood strong. Against the odds, the university community has remained resilient. 

To support the USF community and its mission towards global change, consider making a gift in support of Changing the World From Here: Campaign for the University of San Francisco.