For many, Thanksgiving means family, cozy sweaters and food comas; the chance to return home and eat the best meal of the year. For others, college students in particular, Thanksgiving connotes loneliness. Some students are unable to go home due to financial burdens, long-distance travel or the absence of a supportive home environment. For the past 12 years, Marketplace Sous Chef Joe Parks has been providing a Thanksgiving feast for any student who remains on campus for the holiday.
When Parks’ marriage ended, he reflected on being separated from loved ones during holidays and recognized that many Occidental students must experience a similar sense of loneliness.
“It makes me feel good to know I’ll be feeding these students who are away from their families and have no place else to go; it’s just my way of giving back,” Parks said.
Parks works tirelessly all day on Thanksgiving, preparing a meal of roast turkey, potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, vegetables and pies galore. Until last year, when he was provided a helper for serving and cleaning through Residential Education and Housing Services, Parks prepared and served the entire meal himself. Parks only stops to enjoy the meal with students once they have all been fed. When Parks’ son Jeremy — now a student at the University of Michigan — was young, Parks would bring him to the dinner. Parks values students who may not yet feel at home at Occidental, and sees his Thanksgiving dinner as a way to foster community. The positive feedback he receives from students inspires Parks to continue.
Daniel Gittelman-Egan, (sophomore) a Massachusetts resident, could not fly back to the East Coast for Thanksgiving. He considers Chef Joe’s Thanksgiving to be the best meal of the year.
“It’s one of my favorite meals of the year,” Gittelman-Egan said. “The chef at the marketplace is incredible for putting in the amount of work that he does to make the meal feel authentic and homemade and it shows. Don’t miss out.”
Parks has been serving Occidental students for nearly 18 years and working in food service since he was 14. His commitment to the community extends beyond Thanksgiving; he dedicates himself to caring for and interacting with students daily. He offers the popular course “Cooking with Joe,” in the spring, in which he teaches students cooking basics, as well as the recipe to one gourmet meal to impress their friends and family. Parks recalled one student taking the course four times in his college career. Parks strives to be a friendly face for all students on campus and is always available to chat or offer a warm hello in the pasta line.
“My life is my work. At this point, it’s all about being here. The things that bring me enjoyment are interactions with you all, I just care about you guys,” Parks said.
Sammy Herdman (sophomore) spoke to Parks’ dedication to the students.
“Chef Joe always puts in effort to get to know people. I think his relationship with the students motivates him to make really good food, and you can really tell,” Herdman said.
This year’s menu includes gluten-free and vegan options. In past years, 60–80 students attended and enjoyed the delicious meal and had the opportunity to share what they are thankful for and participate in board games after dinner.
Richard Via (sophomore) a Chicago native, was unaware of Chef Joe’s Thanksgiving as a first-year student. He made a disastrous meal out of a boneless turkey and incredibly dry stuffing without the help of a can opener.
“It was the worst Thanksgiving of my life,” Via said. “Thanksgiving rolled around, we were all homesick, so we went to Target to get the works for a full-scale Thanksgiving to cook in the Stewie kitchen. Then everything went wrong.”
Via and his friends burnt the turkey, made a sugarless pumpkin pie and were unable to open their cranberry sauce with a rock. They ended up trying to order pizzas. Alas, all pizzerias were closed.
Via was pleased to learn about Chef Joe’s Thanksgiving, welcome to all students. Parks encourages anyone interested to attend.
“Everyone come! Don’t feel bad if you don’t have any place to go. That’s what this dinner is all about; we started it for people who had no place to go,” said Parks. “For me, it’s really about love. I look forward to it every year, it’s a lot of work, it’s hard, but to see everyone enjoy it and eat with you all — we all enjoy that holiday feeling together.”
Students interested in attending can sign up at http://bit.ly/oxythanksgiving.
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