Volunteers for the University Libraries’ recent Cheesy Night service project in Newman Library cranked up the grill, flipped grilled cheese, served cookies and fruit, poured hot chocolate, and even gave encouraging hugs to students stressed by the demands of studying for finals.
Therese Walters, service project coordinator and wife of University Libraries Dean Tyler Walters, said Cheesy Nights began in 2011 with $100 for cheese, butter, bread, and a small griddle. For fall’s 2019 finals week, however, volunteers from across the Virginia Tech community, the region, and beyond served close to 4,000 sandwiches.
“In the last nine years, this project has grown and encouraged thousands of students to keep studying and working hard during finals week,” said Tyler Walters. “This project models the service-oriented land-grant mission of Virginia Tech for our students. We know they will remember this and pay it forward when they can.”
Elania White, a mom of two Hokies, traveled from her home in Wytheville to help prepare and serve sandwiches and snacks to students studying in Newman library. She learned of the project through Facebook and knew she had to participate.
“We need to do this,” said White. “A lot of kids don’t have anyone here to help. Some don’t have any meal plan money left and this is a hot meal for them. An encouraging word and knowing someone cares makes all the difference for students.”
Lisa Graves came to Blacksburg to pick up her son William, a mechanical engineering major whose last exam was on the last day of final exams. “We live seven hours away, so I don’t get an opportunity to help out very often. We came here early to do this. We’re a third-generation Hokie family and we like to stay involved.”
Hokie parents make friends during Cheesy Nights and stay connected over the years. Some even plan which days they will serve in order to see their Hokie parent friends.
This year, Virginia Tech Police Department officers helped grill and serve sandwiches. Officer Micah Pasquarell said it’s all about supporting students.
“It’s fun to do this and it’s so rewarding,” said Pasquarell. “Students need to know that there are people cheering for them and rooting them on to get them past the finish line. It’s fun to be a part of that.”
Virginia Tech Police Officer Nigel Lee volunteered three nights to cook sandwiches. “We did 800 sandwiches the first night,” said Lee. “I could smell them all night – smell the butter on my clothes. It’s fun because the kids are so appreciative.”
Gavin Gochnour, a second-year finance major, gave testimony to the stress-relieving power of grilled cheese.
“I have a big day tomorrow and it’s going to be rough,” said Gochnour. “I was stressed. I got my food and felt better. I think it’s cool to see the community come together to encourage me while I study. Thank you to all the volunteers who helped me calm down. Everyone was extremely welcoming and kind.”
Cheesy Nights are made possible through individual private donations to the University Libraries Excellence Annual Fund. “So many donations of time, talent, and money along with a caring library make this service project a blast to do,” said Therese Walters. “All involved have truly made a difference for our students. Thank you!”
–by Ann Brown