Crisp said this idea comes from his time as an undergraduate at Johnson C. Smith University. He said he wasn’t able to go home for Thanksgiving for his first three years on campus.
“I found it to be a really sort of isolating and lonely and, in some ways, miserable experience, because almost everybody is gone and there’s only a handful of people,” Crisp said.
The Thanksgiving meal began as a potluck at the house of then Dean of the School of Law, Judith Wagner, when Crisp was working as the assistant dean of the law school.
“We invited folks in the law school community who weren’t going home, who didn’t have anything to do, who were going to be here to come and spend the day with us and bring what they could,” Crisp said. “We had what became a tradition.”
When Crisp transferred to main campus, he realized a potluck wouldn’t feed the larger number of students. But in 2012, he partnered with John Rodriguez, general manager of the Carolina Club, to organize the first ever Tar Heel Thanksgiving.
Rodriguez said he and Crisp noticed a lot of students on campus during Thanksgiving break in 2012.
“That whole year, (Crisp) and I kept in touch and we kept the idea of what are we going to do, and we settled into the idea that we would open our doors to the club’s Thanksgiving buffet, which the club has done annually for our members, and we would feed the students,” Rodriguez said.
Carolina Club members can sponsor a student for $25 in order to give students the opportunity to attend the meal.
“I honestly believe it’s not easy being a student, and what I hear from our members is: ‘If we can provide a bit of relief on a day like this, then I’m in,’” Rodriguez said.
This Thanksgiving will be the Tar Heel Thanksgiving’s third year. There will be two seating times offered, one at 11 a.m. and one at 2:30 p.m.
Rodriguez said there were 152 students the first year and 192 students the second year. This year, the club is expecting close to 250 students.
Rick Bradley, associate director of housing and residential education, said there are about 70 students staying in break housing in Craige and Carmichael residence halls, a record for Thanksgiving break housing.
“I think it’s really appreciated. There’s an opportunity for them to get a free meal, a very nice meal in a nice location,” Bradley said.
Crisp said he didn’t want anyone to feel like they didn’t have a place to go for Thanksgiving.
“When I think back to that 18-year-old kid walking around campus Thanksgiving weekend, just feeling so lost and so alone and almost abandoned, not anybody’s fault — but to now be able to do this so that there’s at least 200 students who aren’t feeling like that is a really cool thing,” Crisp said.