University of Iowa professor offers students Thanksgiving meals

Elizabeth Pearce, a professor in the Communication’s Department, sent out an email to her students offering to drop off Thanksgiving meals to those that are quarantined or can’t go home to their families for Thanksgiving. A student shared the email on Twitter and her act of kindness went viral.



Natalie Dunlap, News Reporter

The holidays are an opportunity for professors to momentarily step away from their teaching duties and gather with their family. But when University of Iowa Communications Professor Elizabeth Pearce was preparing for the Thanksgiving break, she wanted to expand her family’s celebrations to students who may not get the chance to spend the holiday with their own families.

When a first year student spoke out about a bad experience she had when quarantining in a residence hall at the beginning of the semester, Pearce realized students would need someone in their corner this semester. Whenever one of her students tested positive for COVID-19, she would reach out and ask if they had a support network and someone to bring them food.   

“Talking with students over the semester, I realized a lot of them were going through really hard times,” she said. “Many of my students had COVID-19, lots have had family members who’ve been sick, and then I think generally maybe the idea of not going home for Thanksgiving kind of hit some of them particularly hard.”

Pearce usually has a large Thanksgiving with family and friends, but this year she will just be celebrating with three of her kids. Her oldest daughter is working in Washington, D.C., and social distancing. Her oldest son currently has the coronavirus. 

“I talked to him through a car window and he’s been lonely and it sort of really broke my heart thinking that anybody could be far away from a parent and not feeling well,” Pearce said. 

Since her family wouldn’t be having their traditional Thanksgiving, she asked her kids if they would be willing help her make food for her students. They were immediately on board, and her daughter went to work searching for vegan alternatives to traditional dishes. 

“I think it really impacted my two youngest, the idea that people can’t go home and see their folks for Thanksgiving, so they were willing to work pretty hard to make dinner for everybody happen,” Pearce said. 

On the morning of Nov. 19, Pearce sent out an email to all of her students across three classes, offering to drop off Thanksgiving meals to residence halls and apartments for anyone who was quarantined or couldn’t go home to their family. 

“I don’t want anyone to feel alone on Thanksgiving, or to miss out on a home cooked family dinner, so I want to invite you to share my Thanksgiving dinner,” she wrote in her email. 

Leah Blask, a student in Pearce’s Organizational Leadership class, was touched by Pearce’s offer. She sent a screenshot of the email to a group chat and then decided to post it on Twitter.

“I decided to share it because I wanted to spread her joy,” Blask said. 

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To Blask’s surprise, the tweet went viral and currently has more than 860,000 likes. 

“I think that a lot of people were looking for a little bit of light right now … It was just like a shining spot of humanity, where this professor was willing to spend their time and give to others,” Blask said.

She noticed a lot of people interacting with the tweet said this was a great way to show leadership, which fits in with the lesson in the class Blask is taking. She said Pearce practices what she preaches. 

Others asked if they could donate to Pearce, but Pearce insisted that wasn’t necessary. 

“We’re just excited to show that people are helping people and I was just excited to share how truly sweet of a professor Dr. Pearce is,” Blask said. 

When the tweet started blowing up, Blask sent Pearce screenshots of the responses she was getting. What stuck out most to Pearce was how many people said the message brought a tear to their eye.  

“When you see somebody in the grocery store we tug at our masks and move away from them, and I think we’re all hungry for some human connection, and in a way we’re not used to people being kind to each other like we used to be,” she said. “And so maybe when Leah tweeted, it made everybody sad for the days when people were kind to each other.” 

With Thanksgiving less than a week away, Pearce’s 10-year-old son Charlie said he’s looking forward to making and distributing the meals. He’s most excited to prepare his favorite Thanksgiving dish, mashed potatoes. 

“I think that it wouldn’t be fun to be by yourself and especially if you couldn’t see anyone and I think that it’s better to do something for them than not doing something,” he said. 

By Friday, three students had taken her up on her offer.

In interview with The Daily Iowan, Pearce extended her invitation to any student at the University of Iowa, and said she can be reached by email. 

“If it turns out to be a lot of people, I’ve got friends in town who I know would be willing to make extra food and do some runs too, because everyone’s Thanksgiving is looking a bit different,” she said. “And it would be really nice if everyone at the UI felt that somebody cared.”