Class of 1969 celebrates 55th reunion with gift to Thea’s Pantry

June 21, 2024
By: Rebecca Cross

Over the years, the Class of 1969 has given several gifts to the university, establishing three endowed scholarships. This spring, in honor of their 55th reunion year, they decided to do something to help students dealing with food insecurity.

In May, they established the Class of 1969 “Sponsor a Shelf” Fund, which raised $2,300 in less than one month. Their goal is to raise $10,000 to fully endow the fund and provide Thea’s Pantry with $500 of unrestricted funds annually in perpetuity.

Established in 2019, Thea’s Pantry provides food and other essentials to students, staff, and faculty in need. The pantry was opened through a collaborative effort among student organizations and different departments and is named after alumna Thea Aschkenase ’07 (1923-2019), a Holocaust survivor who was liberated from the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1945 and who worked throughout her life to end hunger.

“We wanted to do a program that would help even more students,” said Class Ambassador Maryanne Hammond ’69, M.Ed. ’72, M.Ed. ’77. Hammond was a good friend of Thea’s and is thrilled to do something in her honor. “She touched so many lives, and she’s still doing it.”

“Ever since the pandemic, food insecurity has become more prevalent among Worcester State students,” said Josh Katz, director of Conference and Event Services who coordinates the pantry. “We have students who don’t know where their next meal will come from.” Donations to the pantry are used to stock the pantry to provide food to supplement meals. “Last year, we gave out over 800 meals to students, so every little bit helps.”

“Sometimes these kids don’t have enough funds, so they take a semester off and never return,” Hammond said. “Worcester State does a lot to help these kids stay in school. We want to do what we can to help these kids make it to the next semester.”

Although the Class of ’69 came up with the idea for the fund, anyone can donate to it. The class is hoping to raise at least $10,000 for the endowment. That amount would ensure an annual payment of $500. But there’s no limit to the fund. If they raise $20,000, the payment to Thea’s Pantry will be $1,000 a year. They also hope to inspire other classes to follow their lead by establishing their own “Class Shelves.”

“The Class of 1969 is truly remarkable,” said Thomas McNamara, vice president of University Advancement. “They are a cohesive group of engaged individuals who, recognizing the unique challenges of today’s students, took time to investigate the issue of food insecurity on campus, discovering a real barrier to success for many students.”

Hammond calls the fund a group effort, pointing out that most of her class were employed as schoolteachers and are now retired, so they aren’t wealthy. Nevertheless, they have been able to raise funds, she says, “little by little.”

“I think my class, for the most part, taught in Worcester and saw how poverty can hurt a family and limit a child’s goal in life,” Hammond said. “We want to help these kids because somebody helped us along the way.”

“I want to thank everyone who donates in advance,” said Katz, “for their willingness to support this important fund that will allow our students to concentrate on their education and not if they will be able to eat.”

Anyone interested in giving to the Sponsor a Shelf Fund can donate here.

Image: The Class of 1969 at their 55th reunion

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