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Tom and Cindy Simpson

NOvember 25, 2015

Volunteers bustled about Tom and Cindy Simpson’s kitchen as they stirred gallons of gravy, sliced pounds of turkey and added the finishing touches to trays of green bean casseroles. Downstairs, another group of volunteers transformed garages into woodland- and Americana-themed dining rooms.

Cindy Simpson, with the aid of friend Ellis Furst, directed the volunteers as they set the stage for an annual Thanksgiving feast for more than 160 international college students from more than 20 nations around the world.

“It seems like there is no cohesiveness to what we are doing. Then all of a sudden, almost like magic, everything comes together,” said Tom Simpson, executive-in-residence at UNCW’s Cameron School of Business.

For the past eight years, the Simpsons have hosted international students at their home overlooking Bradley Creek. The UNCW International Student Organization, Faculty Commons Christian group, Ratio Christi, UNCW faculty and staff as well as and church and community members help each year by donating food, cooking the feast and serving students.

“The students who come find it to be one of the truly memorable experiences during their time in Wilmington,” Tom Simpson said. “There’s a warmth here and a lot of it comes from the people. It’s just special for all those involved. There is a glow on everyone’s faces, whether they are faculty hosts, students or workers.”

The first International Thanksgiving dinner was held in a small room on campus with barely enough space for food or guests, Cindy Simpson recalled. The students asked if the dinner could be held at the Simpsons’ home the following year.

“They knew that this was a place where they were welcomed,” she said. “We didn’t know how it was going to work; I was just amazed that it did. We made do with what we had.”

As word spread, the annual dinner grew. Local artist Ellis Furst and her husband, Don Furst, a UNCW art history professor, signed on to help the Simpsons. Ellis Furst designs the multiple dining rooms.

“Not only do the students come and partake in wonderful food, they get a total experience of a Thanksgiving dinner,” Cindy Simpson said.

Learn more about the International Thanksgiving Dinner in a video feature produced by the Office of University Relations.

-- Venita Jenkins