Every year at Thanksgiving Denise Birdsall receives a gift in the mail from a girl from Mongolia. The girl was a stranger who Birdsall welcomed into her home for a few weeks and for Thanksgiving dinner.
â€œI have no idea where sheâ€™s at [now, but] a gift will arrive every Thanksgiving, saying â€˜I think of Thanksgiving, and I think I have a family here in America,â€™â€ Birdsall said.
It began mainly with inviting international students over, at the same time Birdsall had a homeless person living at her house for a while, and then they would take in teens who were having trouble with their families.
These diverse meals began 10 years ago when a friend of Birdsallâ€™s, who now lives in Japan, but was a student at the time, brought over a frozen pizza for Thanksgiving dinner.
â€œHe insisted on bringing a frozen pizza, saying he didnâ€™t eat turkey and as he was pulling it out, it fell out onto his face and then onto the floor,â€ she said
The student reluctantly agreed to eat the turkey and ended up enjoying the feast.
â€œHe didnâ€™t ever really have a good family life, he didnâ€™t celebrate holidays and he was opposed to holidays,â€ Birdsall said. â€œThat really solidified in my mind that a lot of times people have these expectations and they feel left out if they donâ€™t have a place to go that feels inclusive.â€
Birdsall has at least 15 people over every other week.
â€œSo itâ€™s not just Thanksgiving, but Thanksgiving is a time to me that it seems like it can have a lot emotional feelings,â€ Birdsall said. â€œIf you donâ€™t have a home or family, or if youâ€™re not getting along with them, or are far away geographically, and everyone is talking about family and doing family things and youâ€™re not, it can be really hard.â€
This year Birdsall is expecting around 15 people at her household, which includes herself, her husband, her mother, her daughter â€” a CSU student â€” and would normally include her son who will be away this year.
Preparing a meal for such a large group of people would seem daunting to most, but Birdsall, a cooking enthusiast, tries to add a twist to the usual platters.
â€œEveryone is bringing their own idea to it, so every year I do it a little differently…I try to build the menu around whoâ€™s coming,â€ Birdsall said.
Different means pumpkin cake, a sweet potato-and-apple dish and plenty of vegetable options for vegetarians.
And her recipes are available to anyone thanks to the Internet. Birdsall also writes a cooking blog in her spare time: www.dinner-with-deniseb.blogspot.com. Almost all of the recipes posted are original recipes.
Being away from family on Thanksgiving is something that is common for students at CSU.
Tasha Griffins, a freshman from Laguna Beach, Calif., is planning on staying in Fort Collins for the fall recess. The cost of going home is whatâ€™s hindering Griffins from making the trip back.
â€œIâ€™m going home for Christmas, which is only a month away so itâ€™s not too bad,â€ Griffins said.
This is Griffinsâ€™ first year being away from home for Thanksgiving, but she will still get a healthy helping of mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, her favorite staples for Thanksgiving.
Her plans consist of driving to Cheyenne, Wyoming to have dinner with a friend of hers that she met at the Alley Cat.
â€œItâ€™s scary, and I kind of wish I could be home, but at the same time, I know that the people Iâ€™m out here with are pretty much my new family so Iâ€™ll still be with family for Thanksgiving,â€ she said.
Miesha Gibson, a junior and double major in natural resources recreations and tourism and art, will be ditching the turkey legs for being on her legs on Thanksgiving day.
â€œIâ€™m going home until Wednesday and then Iâ€™m coming back to work Thursday at the Black Eyed Pea and working the rest of the week,â€ Gibson said.
Itâ€™s Gibsonâ€™s first year working on the holiday away from her home in Monte Vista, Colo. â€” a six-hour drive from Fort Collins.
â€œWorking Thanksgiving is a day servers make a lot of money in one day, and I need the money,â€ Gibson said.
Birdsall invites anyone for Thanksgiving, and has a few extra seats at her table this year. If youâ€™re interested in joining their table contact Birdsall at email@example.com.
â€œIâ€™m just doing this because itâ€™s fun honestly. Itâ€™s just something that is the idea of being inclusive is important to me, my whole life thatâ€™s what I live for, I just want to show a love for people.â€
Collegian writer Bailey Constas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.