The Banquet Table, a non-profit student organization on campus, is centered on coffee and honoring local non-profits. The organization plans to host its free annual Thanksgiving dinner for UTSA students in the Central Plaza.
Students and organizations on-campus are encouraged, not required, to donate non-perishable items, fresh produce and hygiene products to the Roadrunner Pantry. Carmel Gabriel, founder and executive director, explained what the event looks like and its significance to the organization and students.
“This year it’s going to be 22 tables long, but we do connect them to be one long table. We dress it up like a wedding table and try to make it beautiful … it will fit 132 students,” Gabriel said. “We do it the week before Thanksgiving because it is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. It’s our iconic event because it serves students through the Roadrunner Pantry versus our other events that aren’t necessarily about UTSA students but non-profits that serve the city. We do that every year and raise awareness about the pantry. They feed 300 students a week and a lot of students don’t know that, so it’s a way to raise awareness about their mission and what they are doing for students.”
At the meal, students are asked to write down a time when food was a blessing for them. Gabriel shared that in the past there were always a handful of notes from students that were vulnerable enough to share they didn’t know when they were going to receive their next meal.
“It feels humbling and honoring to come alongside students and meet some needs of theirs,” Gabriel said. “I think post-COVID there is also a lot of emotional need too, so to have free coffee and time to gather and build a friendship is pretty amazing.”
Every month the organization hosts a gathering that honors a local non-profit that uplifts its mission.
“We use coffee as a means to gather people and tell them about what nonprofit we are honoring and invite them to the gatherings we offer each month on behalf of whichever non-profit,” Gabriel said. “It’s great because it’s free. College students love social justice, and what’s great about honoring non-profits is they are the ones meeting the needs around the city in terms of social justice so it’s a cool way to connect them with the people who are working towards that need. We use coffee because who doesn’t love coffee? It’s a cool way to gather people.”
When she was a UTSA student, Gabriel saw a need for a gathering place on campus. Gabriel went into further detail about how the Banquet Table started.
“I had a dream about a gathering place and in the dream, there was a banquet table and from the dream, we got the concept … we just really want to honor non-profits,” Gabriel said.
The organization still hopes to have a physical coffee house and use the shop’s profits to donate to non-profits offering a free venue in the process. Even without a concrete building, the organization has still maintained its mission of uplifting nonprofits around the city.
“There came a point where we were like ‘we can do the mission of the Banquet Table, serving nonprofits, without having a physical venue.’ From there we decided we could honor those nonprofits on campus and connect college students to them and create gatherings that reflect their vision,” Gabriel said. “As a student organization, we can host gatherings for free and there came a moment where we could start functioning as someone who gathered students around non-profits before we even had a physical value they could use.”
Gabriel explained that students are generally shocked that the Banquet Table gives out free coffee.
“Students are looking for the catch, but there is no catch, we just want to build relationships with students and honor non-profits,” Gabriel said. “People are almost confused because they are used to everything costing something … I think that because it’s purely free, it is a gift to people. We have had someone tell us that we are the most wholesome group on-campus. We are just honoring other non-profits purely for their benefit and giving out coffee purely for the benefit of college students and to love them well.”
To join the meal or volunteer students can look at the organization’s Instagram handle, @thebanquettablesa, or visit their table in the Sombrilla every Thursday.