UT Housing and Dining, UT Outpost give students free meals through Giving Thanks Early program

Samantha Greyson

University Housing and Dining partnered with UT Outpost for Giving Thanks Early, a program that gives a student a free meal for every paper leaf put on a giving tree.

The paper trees are located outside Jester 2nd Floor Dining and Kinsolving Dining, and students can write their thanks on paper leaves to paste onto the trees. For each leaf put on the trees, a student who has requested food from the UT Outpost gets a free meal ticket for J2 or Kins Dining until Dec. 16. 

The UT Outpost is connecting students with a meal card through their online survey, UT Outpost coordinator Will Ross said. Thank-you notes will be collected until Nov. 24, and the meal tickets can be used until dining halls close Dec. 16, said Cynthia Lew, UHD director of marketing and communications.

 “Right now, we have a question on our food pickup request form to ask if you would like this meal card that is good for one meal,” Ross said. “So long as we have those meals, we will get students connected with that card.”

Lew said UHD began the program as an alternative to the annual Friendsgiving dinner, which will not take place in person this year. 

“This year, we’re doing the dinner, but since we can’t have big groups, it’s just not going to be the same,” Lew said. “All of our food now is served in to-go containers. We still wanted to do something to spread friendship throughout the UT community since we couldn’t do the normal dinner.”

UHD collected over 600 thank-you notes at the Nov. 12 Longhorn Harvest event, Lew said. Students can also give thanks on a virtual survey, which will translate into paper leaves, Lew said.

“We didn’t want to limit this to just people who are on campus,” Lew said. “We wanted people who were studying remotely and not on campus to be able to participate.”

The outpost has never given students meal tickets to J2 or Kins Dining before, Ross said. He said this is an important opportunity for the outpost and for the students they serve, especially during the holiday season, which can be more challenging for students living with food insecurity.

“After talking about what our current students need, from our perspective at UT Outpost, this really fell down to being the most unique and creative idea and something … we haven’t tried yet,” Ross said.

The outpost is doubling the amount of food given out to students from Dec. 1 to Jan. 19, Ross said. Instead of only one food pickup per month, students will be allotted two pickups in December and January.

Director of dining Rene Rodriguez said this is an appropriate alternative to the traditional Friendsgiving meal, which brings students together. 

“We always (had) a bunch of students bring a whole group, just like a family dinner,” Rodruigez said. “We wanted to be able to have something that showed it’s part of giving back too.”