A Dubois Center tradition changes with the times

Categories: News

One hundred brightly colored drawstring bags loaded with health essentials and toiletries are on their way to the Jamil Niner Student Pantry this week, as part of The Dubois Center’s 12th Annual Potluck tradition.

What does that have to do with potluck casseroles and Ambrosia salads, you’re wondering? Settle in for the origins of The Dubois Center Annual Potluck tradition.

Twelve years ago when The Dubois Center opened its doors for the first time, it wasn’t just for students and faculty and business folk. Near Thanksgiving Day, a seat — actually 100 of them — was reserved at a long table in the Atrium for the neighborhood homeless. There they feasted with employees on roast turkey, mashed potatoes, mac-n-cheese and the other time-honored fixin’s. Thus was born the The Dubois Center Annual Potluck.

“We would all sit down and have a meal together,” said Courtney Hunt, Event Manager for The Dubois Center, and the event’s organizer for the last six years. “The turkey, ham and gravy was provided by Chartwells Catering, and everyone else signed up to bring their own mac-and-cheese, mashed potatoes — all your classic Thanksgiving sides.” 

After the meal together, each of the 100 guests recieved a sack of essentials, including shampoo, soaps, toothpaste and hand warmers – all donated by local hotels and nonprofit organizations.

The First Annual Potluck turned into the Second, then Third, all the way up to the Eighth, when an antagonist began to rear its dry-coughing head.

“It was a good time. It was super fun,” said Hunt, of the festive community meals. “ And then the pandemic hit.” 

The Annual Potluck had never been canceled before, and that wasn’t about to change. But to keep the tradition going, they had to tweak it for the times.

Since 2020, the Annual Potluck has looked differently. Employees of The Dubois Center and the School of Professional Studies still gather in the Atrium, but this time to pack bags filled with essentials donated by their colleagues. Holiday music pumps through the speakers as they work like elves with precision, stuffing each bag with over 30 items, from granola bars and makeup wipes to ibuprofen and laundry sheets. 

“It’s fun. I’ve been here five years,” said Denise Cornell, an implementation specialist, as she dropped a bar of soap into a purple bag and cinched it shut. “It’s part of the tradition.” 

“Everybody likes that little natural high that comes from doing something nice,” said Director of Dining Services Christine Gass, stacking the rainbow of bags onto a cart, preparing them for delivery.  “It feels good to do nice things.”

This year the donated sacks of healthy essentials will go to the Jamil Niner Student Pantry, where they can be picked up by UNC Charlotte students and employees who need them. Over 350 shoppers visit the pantry each week. 

Hunt doesn’t see The Dubois Center tradition going anywhere anytime soon, and expects the 13th Annual Potluck to be just as successful. “Every year I am blown away by the impact we make and the continued support for one of The Dubois Center’s longest standing traditions.”

Interested in donating or volunteering to those in need? Visit the Jamil Niner Student Pantry.