Santa Fe Senior Spreads Thanksgiving Cheer, One Meal at a Time

December 19, 2023 | By Kirstin Fawcett

Calvin Bright (SF24) knows what it’s like to go without a Thanksgiving meal. So instead of slipping into a turkey coma this past November after celebrating the holiday with other Johnnies at Santa Fe president Mark Roosevelt’s house, he sprang into action, packing uneaten meat, stuffing, cranberries, and pie into biodegradable takeout containers. He knew there were others out there who needed the food. He just had to find them. 

Calvin Bright (SF23, left) takes a break from reading Leibniz to chat with Sam Roy (SF24). (Photo credit: Peter Sloan)

Currently a Santa Fe senior, Bright experienced homelessness as a kid while growing up in Louisville, Kentucky—a period of his life he today considers a cornerstone of his identity. “It’s part of what makes me strong,” he reflects. After graduation, Bright plans on returning Louisville and advocating for underserved communities, perhaps someday founding a women’s shelter with his mother, a survivor of domestic violence. Until then, he does what he can to improve the world, volunteering with nonprofits and organizing a campus group for students called “Johnnies on Foot” that promotes biking and walking accessibility. Back home, on occasions like Christmas, Bright and his brother sometimes visit restaurants late at night, asking for surplus food to distribute to unhoused individuals throughout the city. Which is what this year, he wanted to also do on Thanksgiving Day in Santa Fe.

Getting the Santa Fe campus dining hall on board was the first step, as the Sage Dining-managed eatery was catering the event at President Roosevelt’s home. Bright spoke with executive chef Russell Allen and general manager Joann Patrick; they gave Bright the go-ahead to give away uneaten dishes post 5.p.m. so long as feast attendees had eaten their fill. Once he had cleared his plan with other college officials, Bright says, it was go-time: post-pie, “I assembled a team of people there at the dinner, just asking, ‘Hey, do you have a second? We’re going to be putting together some meals,’” Bright recalls. “And if you want to help out, that’d be really cool.”

Roughly 10 Johnnies volunteered, forming an assembly line and doling sides, mains, and desserts into containers. “That was, I think, one of the more beautiful parts of the night—the fact that so many people were just so willing, on the spot, to help do this,” Bright says. “Even students I had not met before or talked to.” They loaded 30-some food-laden containers into Bright’s car, and he took off and “just cruised around,” he recalls. “I’d find people, I’d give them a meal. I’d then ask them, ‘Hey, do you know where other people are? They’d tell me, ‘Oh, go to this underpass; go to that bridge. The whole night was led organically by people without homes telling me where to find other people without homes.”

New Mexico has one of the highest poverty rates of any western state, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Social support organizations do exist, but “a lot of the time, people who do not make it into shelters are ones who especially struggle with their mental health,” Bright says. He, himself, lives with bipolar disorder and chalks its ongoing management up to medication and support from his community. “That’s been a part of my story at St. John’s,” he says, “so it was really good to specifically go find those folks.”

Each boxed meal prepared by Bright and his classmates found a home that night, thanks in no small part, he concludes, to his ability to “have conversations with anyone, whether under an overpass or in a library”—a skill gained from three and-a-half years of seminar. This allowed him to not just feed but connect with everyone he met: people of all ages and backgrounds, coming together over slow-cooked turkey and a piece of pie. 

Happy Holidays from St. John’s Santa Fe! (Photos of the college’s annual Thanksgiving dinner at Hunt House, i.e. the President’s House, below courtesy of Dihong Bai)