December 16, 2004
Distance, cost and other factors may prohibit some University of Maine at Fort Kent students from sharing the upcoming holiday season with their families, but the concerted efforts of the campus dining services staff will ensure those who remain behind will have a home to go to.
Employees of ARAMARK, the contracted dining service company that serves the UMFK campus, are stepping up to the plate to make sure all of the students they see come through the cafeteria on a daily basis will not be alone this Christmas.
The team, led by dining services manager Jason Carter, are preparing a Christmas eve gathering at Carter's home that will bring together international and other UMFK students from away who are spending the holidays in Fort Kent.
"The UMFK campus community is truly like a family. We see these students everyday and get to know them. My staff and I decided that family should be together during the holiday season, so we decided to bring our extended family together this Christmas," said Carter.
The idea was initially developed by ARAMARK dining services manager Jason Carter and his wife Heidi, who at Thanksgiving invited a student from Cameroon to share the holiday meal with their family.
The concept of having new guests at the holiday dinner table was not new to the Carter family, who relocated to Fort Kent from Portland a few years ago, where they would annually invite those less fortunate than themselves to share the Christmas holiday with them.
Although the idea of inviting UMFK students into their home over the upcoming holiday may have originated with the Carter's, much of the planning for the event was quickly taken over by ARAMARK staff, who are now determined to see to it the college students have a happy holiday.
Two staff members in particular, Lise Gervais and Suzanne Morneault, have taken on "Operation Merry UMFK Christmas", as a personal mission and have even taken the concept further than Carter had initially envisioned.
"What would Christmas be without gifts," said Gervais. "Being away from home at this time of year will be difficult enough. We wanted to make this a happy holiday all around."
So Gervais and Morneault, along with Carter's wife Heidi, turned to the community for help with "Operation Merry UMFK Christmas".
Donations of gifts, from gift certificates to McDonald's to school supplies needed for the coming semester, began to pour in from personal and professional contacts of the three Santa's elves.
"It was amazing how well people responded," said Morneault. "When we told them what we're doing they were more than happy to help."
With the monetary donations collected in hand, and a list provided by UMFK's residence life staff of ten students who would be remaining in the residence halls over the holiday, Heidi Carter went shopping for additional items that will be placed in the Christmas baskets the team will be preparing.
"Our family realized that when we have a home to go to, we often take it for granted. This year, we are not only hoping to have the students spend time with us, but also have things for them to open," said Heidi Carter.
According to Jason Carter and his team of elves, the gift giving will not be one sided this Christmas.
"Having the students over to our home and knowing they will share in the joy of this holiday season will be our gift," said Jason Carter. "In addition, having people from different backgrounds and different parts of the world over will be a good experience for our three children."
Of the ten students who are invited to share Christmas with the Carter's three are from countries other than the United States. In addition to the student from Cameroon, who spent Thanksgiving with the family, a student from Japan and two from Morocco are expected.
With the invitation list complete and gifts coming together, final preparations, including food, are all that remain to be done.
What cannot be prepared in advance will be completed by Gervais, Morneault and other members of the dining services staff on Christmas eve morning, when the "elves" come together for the final phase of "Operation Merry UMFK Christmas".