Brockport community gathers to give thanks

BROCKPORT — The responses were as varied as the people gathered for an interfaith celebration of gratitude.

"This is your chance to lift our hands in gratitude to God for the many things we’re thankful for," said Margot Van Etten, the campus minister at the Newman Catholic Center at SUNY Brockport where the Nov. 16 service was held.

Friends, family, health, love, food, cats and dogs, and even the game of golf and rainbows were among the shout-outs from the more than 150 people — who ranged from families with young children to students to retirees — who participated and also donated food for the Brockport Food Shelf, which is housed at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

College staff and students worked with the Brockport Inner-Village Ministry Association to host the event as part of the college’s efforts to promote interfaith cooperation and community service, explained Penny Gardner, the diocesan migrant minister for the Brockport area.

"It’s fantastic," Kathy Kutolowski, a retired Brockport history professor, said about the event. "At a time when elements in our country are trying to divide people … and sow the seeds of hate, this (service) is great."

Kutolowski, who attended with her husband, John, also a retired history professor, volunteers at the food shelf and noted how the donated food would help the 175 people who were to receive Thanksgiving baskets. Students on campus also have held food drives, she added.

"We have a wonderful stock of food because … the students on campus do a great job," Kutolowski added.

That commitment to helping those who are hungry is part of a mission the college has taken on in response to President Barack Obama’s interfaith and community service challenge issued to colleges and universities last spring, explained Amy Kruppenbacher, student organization coordinator for the college’s department of community development.

The intent is for the one-year program to become sustainable on campuses throughout the nation, she said, adding that she hopes the interfaith gratitude service will be the first of many.

"Our purpose is to help with food, show gratitude for our local workers and buy local whenever possible," Kruppenbacher noted. "And share with those in need."

A local worker also took part in the service. After spending a day cleaning and boxing onions to be shipped to area stores, Adulia Zuniga, a migrant worker from Mexico who has lived in the area for 16 years, sang "De Colores" with Gardner.

The multicultural service also included performances by the college’s gospel choir, the Sweden Senior Singers and the Sankofa African Dance and Drum Ensemble. Small loaves of bread also were blessed in four languages: English, Spanish, Hebrew and Twi.

"What a wonderful way to bring communities together," remarked Katy Wilson, vice president for enrollment management and student affairs at the college. "And there is no more worthy goal than to make sure no one goes home hungry."

EDITOR’S NOTE: More information on President Obama’s college challenge may be found at To participate in Brockport’s "Seasons of Gratitude" initiative, visit

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