Anything for free food: how we thank our donors (and how we ought to)

Secondstories

By: Sam Shelton, Senior Editor

Step right up, step right up. Now pick somewhere comfy to sit down. It’s time to play one of my very favorite games here at Towson University. I like to call it “Who’s Here for the Free Food?”

Today, I’m playing from my window in the Towerlight office, which, for those of you who don’t know, looks down over the plaza outside Susq Terrace, outside the Union. Down below, I see hotdogs. Hamburgers. Assorted buns and rolls. Cookies and something that I’m assuming is either chicken or a veggie burger conglomeration of some kind. I see a whiteboard at the end of the line with “SHOW YOUR TIGER PRIDE” emblazoned on the back. And the balloons. Oh god, the dozens of balloons.

Finally, I see a long line of students wrapping itself halfway around the plaza. The tail end is starting to curl around itself — probably in an attempt to leave at least a little bit of space for people to trudge back and forth to class. Presidential ambassadors, accomplished students who assist in President Kim Schatzel’s various functions — easily identifiable thanks to their Paws For Thanks/#Givewithpurpose T-shirts — weave in and out of overseeing food distribution and doing some light mingling.

Paws for Thanks is an annual event aimed at, you guessed it, giving thanks (specifically for donors, which this state school desperately needs).

Per an April 20 (yup, the University threw a party on 4/20) T3 email news listing, “Private contributions support academic programs, scholarships, study abroad, student organizations, athletics, and so much more. As we build a culture of philanthropy, it is important to take a moment and celebrate those who have made an investment in the university, its programs and its exciting future.”

This is great. I am all for donors. I am all for thanking donors, without whom a scholarship I was awarded would not exist. But do donors really care about students getting a free lunch? Even more, do donors really think the student horde I see outside was attracted by the opportunity to say thanks?

Towson University students line up outside the Union, waiting for free food supplied during Paws For Thanks April 20. Sam Shelton/The Towerlight
Towson University students line up outside the Union, waiting for free food supplied during Paws For Thanks April 20. Sam Shelton/The Towerlight

Sorry, but it was the hot dogs.

If I were a donor, (and I’m not, because as a journalist I will never make enough money to have children, let alone pass cash off to my alma mater), I know that the students are here for the free food. They’re not here for me, because why would they be? I wasn’t interested in mingling with Adult Business People when I was their age, so why should they be now?

As I sit in my Towerlight window, again the student, not the donor, I see clear divisions. University officials mingle with donors. Students (who I predominantly recognize as student leaders) mingle with University officials. But the donors and the students are noticeably separate. I get it. I understand it. I understand so deeply in my core that Doing Things You Don’t Have To Do has no place in a collegiate schedule. Free time is reserved for homework and sleep and not caring about my University’s image or PR opportunities. I’ll be the first to admit that mingling is the worst, but I’ll pretend to do it for free food. Hand me a hotdog, and I’ll gladly be part of your publicity stunt.

But what if we showed our donors our thanks in a different way than this weird, pretending to care, will-smile-for-food reception? What if it was up to students to think of new, creative (genuine) ways to show our thanks for everything the donors enable us to do? Personally, I think it’d be a welcome change — even if it’s not as flashy as a plaza crowded with smiling students on a sunny day.

There’s someone dressed as Doc the Tiger running around out there now, offering high fives and other playful, if a little annoying, gestures. I don’t know if they’re here for the free food, but I bet they’re wishing it weren’t 80 degrees.

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