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Mercy Values in Action: Georgian Court University Students Pack Thanksgiving Food Baskets and Make Sandwiches for Local Organizations

thanksgiving basket

‘Tis the season of giving and the spirit of helping others is in full swing on the campus of Georgian Court University. 

Donations of cranberry sauce, biscuit mix, sweet potatoes and other traditional holiday goods have been pouring in to help local families celebrate and have a traditional holiday feast. 

On Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 9:30 a.m. in Mercy Hall, student volunteers will assemble dozens of Thanksgiving Food Baskets that will be donated to Interfaith Family Services (Toms River) and Providence House-Ocean County (Whiting) a service of Catholic Charities.  Providence House and Interfaith serve women and families experiencing domestic violence in Ocean County.  GCU has taken part in this project for more than a decade and typically provides 30 or more baskets each year.

Then, on Wednesday, Nov. 15 at 8:30 a.m. in Mercy Hall, sandwich making skills will be put to good use as student volunteers create dozens of turkey, peanut butter and jelly, and cheese sandwiches for the St. Peter’s Free Community Lunch Program, which serves families in Freehold Borough and surrounding communities.

“Georgian Court is constantly serving the local community because that’s what it means to be a Mercy community.  When we see people suffering, we respond in concrete ways,” explained Jeff Schaffer, Executive Director of Mission & Ministry which is coordinating both efforts.  “Giving food to the hungry is a Corporal Act of Mercy straight from the Bible. GCU’s charitable food drives are a way to make Mercy real in our world.”

In addition to regular student volunteers, students from the “GEN 400: Visioning a Future: Justice, Compassion, and Service” class will use this as a capstone for the course to give them a practical experience and insight into how they can make a difference and do their part to shape a better world. 

The basket assembly and sandwich making efforts are part of a broader series of events that are part of Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week (Nov. 11-18) event funded by the New Jersey Hunger Free Campus Grant.

Another upcoming annual program is “The Giving Tree Project” which starts right after Thanksgiving.  Students, faculty and staff can select tags from the “Giving Tree” that include special gift requests for items like toys and clothing which are given to families through Interfaith. There is also a general toy collection that is donated to Providence House for use in their “Christmas Store” where clients can choose what they want for their children.  Last year the GCU community collected more than 450 gifts.   

Sharmay Wood, Dean of Students, noted that student involvement in events and community service is of paramount importance. “We believe that participation in these service projects is a transformative experience for our students. It offers them opportunities for personal growth, helping them discover new skills and strengths, while also boosting their self-esteem and confidence as they witness the positive impact they can have on the lives of others. Moreover, it instills a sense of responsibility in them to recognize their role in addressing societal issues and becoming agents of positive change.”

Volunteerism and community outreach are deeply ingrained within GCU culture.  In addition to the fall holiday drives, the university also sponsors an annual campus-wide Backpack and School Supply drive and an Easter Basket drive, and many student organizations also run smaller drives throughout the year.  GCU also hosts numerous educational programs and even volunteer service trips to support efforts to address important issues like homelessness, domestic abuse, hunger, and justice.  GCU is also home to Julian’s Cupboard Student Food Pantry which helps fight food insecurity within the campus community.

“These initiatives play a pivotal role in building a sense of community on our campus,” said Wood. “When students, faculty, and staff come together to serve the broader community, it forges connections and shared purpose, fostering a strong sense of belonging and unity within our university.”

Anyone who would like to donate items or participate in these holiday events, or other community outreach programs, should call Jeff Schaffer at Mission & Ministry at 732-987-2600, or email:

Aerial view of GCU.

About Georgian Court University

Georgian Court University is a leading regional university that provides a transformative education, preparing students for ethical leadership and service in the Catholic Mercy tradition. Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. The university has a strong liberal arts core and a historic special concern for women.

As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, GCU is known for expanding possibility for more than 1,900 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 16 NCAA Division II sports in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). In 2020, GCU was named a Best Value College by and a Best Bang for the Buck (Northeast) by Washington Monthly. High student retention and graduation rates make GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility on U.S. News & World Reports rankings, and in 2024, GCU was named one of the best Online Master’s Colleges in New Jersey.

The main campus is in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, also serves students through its Center for Professional Studies, and at other locations, including GCU at Brookdale, and through multiple online degree and certificate programs.