International students at table

Coats, toys and turkey legs

At CU Denver, giving happens, in oh so many ways

December 13, 2018

One wants action movies, preferably starring Clint Eastwood. Another wants Old Spice and cookies. Oreos are his favorite. Still another takes a chance: “A quart of whiskey!” he writes. “No? Okay then,” he continues. “A light jacket. Gray, please.”

These are three retired military veterans’ holiday-gift wishes. But the requests aren’t written to Santa. They are delivered to someone in the CU Denver community.

Volunteer brings gift to room-bound vet.
Veteran & Military Student Services staff host an Adopt-a-Vet event each year, bringing gifts to retired service men and women.

Bringing a few hours of holiday spirit each season to the state’s Veterans Community Living Center at Fitzsimons has been an annual routine of the Veteran & Military Student Services office for years. And the Adopt-a-Vet program is just one of many ways the university community gives back to the metro-area it calls home.

“There are food drives, shoe drives, coat drives, toy drives,” said Lauren Pfefferle, student events specialist. “It’s not only giving back to our community since we’re here in the city, but it’s also teaching college students about that opportunity of giving back and having that experience.”

The campus hosts many holiday-giving traditions throughout the year. Here are just a few:


Anyone who would like to thank a veteran can drop a gift off at the Veteran & Military Student Services office in the Tivoli Student Union, Room 124, by Monday, Dec. 17. With a few vets’ wishes left unfulfilled, Director Patrick Browne extended the deadline and asked donors to call or email him to hear the wish-list.

A veteran peeks in gift
Volunteers entertain veterans in the state nursing home each year with gifts, food, music and fun.

“It’s actually my favorite event that we do each year,” Browne said. “I think it’s important that we give back to other military-connected folks.”

In the past, a student has dressed up as Santa Claus and delivered gifts to the rooms of immobile vets. The volunteers then hold a festive party in a dayroom for the rest of the former service members, handing out gifts and brightening their day with food, drink and caroling, which Browne said he suspects they enjoy more than the gifts.

“I think sometimes, being at the state nursing home, they don’t get a lot of interaction with younger folks, especially younger veterans,” he said. “So I think that it is helpful and rewarding for them, as well as for the students, who hear about some of the sacrifices some of these older veterans have made in their lives.”

The festive visit is set for Dec. 20 from 10:30 a.m. to noon at the center at 1919 Quentin St. in Aurora.

Santa hands out gifts
Santa brings gifts to retired military service members in the state nursing home.

Coats for Colorado

In its third year, the Staff Council coat drive organized by the Networking and Campus Engagement Committee collected 375 coats. In conjunction with Coats for Colorado, CU Denver had 11 drop-off points across campus during October and November. Staff Council also collected coats during a staff appreciation breakfast.

Staff members deliver the donated coats to a Dependable Cleaners, which cleans the coats for free before they are dispersed to people in the Denver community who are homeless or otherwise in need.

CU at the Table

A newer tradition inspired by Chancellor Dorothy Horrell provides an experience for CU Denver’s 1,200-plus international students. They learn American culture while enjoying dinner and time with a host family during fall break.

Alumni, faculty and staff invite students into their homes for a meal on or just before Thanksgiving. Renee Waller (MS, ’97), who hosted a meal both this year and during last year’s kickoff of the event, said CU at the Table bridges cultures and forms friendships.

“Our family is so grateful to participate. Sharing a meal with students from around the world is a blessing and a gift.”

CU at the Table is a collaboration between the university’s Office of International Affairs (OIA) and CU Denver Alumni Relations.

Auraria Shares Toy Drive

A tradition for nearly 25 years, the tri-institutional toy drive combines efforts across campus, collecting toys for a select charity each holiday season. A Share Tree in the Tivoli Station Bookstore dangles paper ornaments with varying age ranges for either boys or girls. Participants select an ornament, buy a toy for the specified group and drop it off, unwrapped, in the Student Life & Campus Community office in the Tivoli Student Union, Room 303.

Those who want to bring a smile to an unsuspecting child this year will have to hurry: Deadline is Friday, Dec. 14.

Volunteer with pile of gift
Director Patrick Browne pauses with the bounty of gifts before the holiday partying, hosted by his Veteran & Student Military Services office, begins.

Auraria Shares Food Drive

A food drive held in conjunction with the Early Learning Center (ELC), this holiday tradition helps feed students on campus while offering a lesson in giving to the younger children at the center, Pfefferle said.

ELC students (and staff and parents) hold food drives, and then Auraria Shares organizes a Santa party where the young kids drop off the goods and meet the jolly old elf (aka, the bookstore director). “They bring over so much food for all of our pantries, just boxes and boxes each year,” Pfefferle said.

“We do have a lot of students on this campus who are food insecure, and so it’s a huge benefit to our food pantries,” Pfefferle said. Especially with finals, cold weather and the extra costs of the gift-giving season, the seasonal drive benefits college students, while teaching the tots a valuable lesson, she said.

“Studies certainly show that when you get involved in volunteering and public service at a young age, you are definitely more inclined in your older years to give back.”