Nov 172011
Authors: Bailey Constas

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.

“I have no idea where she’s at [now, but] a gift will arrive every Thanksgiving, saying ‘I think of Thanksgiving, and I think I have a family here in America,’” 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 Birdsall’s, who now lives in Japan, but was a student at the time, brought over a frozen pizza for Thanksgiving dinner.

“He insisted on bringing a frozen pizza, saying he didn’t eat turkey and as he was pulling it out, it fell out onto his face and then onto the floor,” she said

The student reluctantly agreed to eat the turkey and ended up enjoying the feast.

“He didn’t ever really have a good family life, he didn’t celebrate holidays and he was opposed to holidays,” Birdsall said. “That really solidified in my mind that a lot of times people have these expectations and they feel left out if they don’t have a place to go that feels inclusive.”

Birdsall has at least 15 people over every other week.

“So it’s not just Thanksgiving, but Thanksgiving is a time to me that it seems like it can have a lot emotional feelings,” Birdsall said. “If you don’t have a home or family, or if you’re not getting along with them, or are far away geographically, and everyone is talking about family and doing family things and you’re not, it can be really hard.”

This year Birdsall is expecting around 15 people at her household, which includes herself, her husband, her mother, her daughter — a CSU student — 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.

“Everyone is bringing their own idea to it, so every year I do it a little differently…I try to build the menu around who’s coming,” 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: 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 what’s hindering Griffins from making the trip back.

“I’m going home for Christmas, which is only a month away so it’s not too bad,” Griffins said.

This is Griffins’ 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.

“It’s scary, and I kind of wish I could be home, but at the same time, I know that the people I’m out here with are pretty much my new family so I’ll still be with family for Thanksgiving,” 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.

“I’m going home until Wednesday and then I’m coming back to work Thursday at the Black Eyed Pea and working the rest of the week,” Gibson said.

It’s Gibson’s first year working on the holiday away from her home in Monte Vista, Colo. — a six-hour drive from Fort Collins.

“Working Thanksgiving is a day servers make a lot of money in one day, and I need the money,” Gibson said.

Birdsall invites anyone for Thanksgiving, and has a few extra seats at her table this year. If you’re interested in joining their table contact Birdsall at

“I’m just doing this because it’s fun honestly. It’s just something that is the idea of being inclusive is important to me, my whole life that’s what I live for, I just want to show a love for people.”

Collegian writer Bailey Constas can be reached at

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