When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued recommendations against traveling or gathering for Thanksgiving, Liz Pearce, a longtime lecturer at the University of Iowa, was worried for her students.

They’ve had a hard semester already, she thought, and Thanksgiving spent solo would be another tough blow.

“I was afraid many of them might be spending the holiday alone, without a proper Thanksgiving meal,” said Pearce, 61. “I’m a mom and wouldn’t want anybody to feel alone and sad.”

Plus, she added, “a lot of local businesses are closing down, and many students work part time in the restaurants and bars, so their sources of income have dried up.”

The communication studies professor and mother of four swiftly drafted an email to her 130 students on Thursday, spontaneously offering to hand-deliver a warm, traditional Thanksgiving meal.

“I know this has been a difficult time for a lot of you — some of you have had Covid, some of you are currently in quarantine and some of you may not be able to go home for Thanksgiving,” she wrote. “I don’t want anyone to feel alone at Thanksgiving, or to miss out on a homecooked family dinner, so I want to invite you to share my Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve talked with my kids and we would be happy to make extra portions of everything and drop it by your apartment or residence.”

Pearce, who lives in Iowa City with her family, also promised the food would be made safely: “I truly want you to take me up on this offer if you are in town. As I mentioned, my kids have been socially distancing and we will make the food wearing masks to reduce the likelihood of anything being spread.”

Finally, Pearce offered to provide additional portions for roommates or significant others.

Then, she hit send, having no idea her thoughtful gesture would soon go viral.

Leah Blask, 22, one of Pearce’s students, posted a screenshot of the email on Twitter with the caption: “My professor is absolutely too pure for this world.”

Within hours, the post amassed close to 1 million likes, over 70,000 retweets, and thousands of comments.

“It was just such a warm and fuzzy moment, and I wanted to share it,” said Blask, a senior student at the university. “I was so blown away with the response and how many people were as touched with Dr. Pearce’s act of kindness as I was.”

Although Pearce’s offer warmed her heart, she said, it wasn’t entirely surprising.

“She is one of the most genuinely involved professors. She really cares about her students; they are not just another name in the grade book,” Blask explained, adding that since the pandemic, Pearce has set up weekly check-ins with each of her students and offered additional support.

For Pearce, the offer to cook for her students was “no big deal,” she said. “I just wanted everyone to know that there was room at my virtual table.”

The email outlined two separate, extensive menus — one for omnivores and one for vegans — filled with all the makings of a traditional Thanksgiving feast. She offered turkey (or Tofurky for vegans), gravy, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, baked Brussels sprouts, and more, plus peas: “I’m English,” she wrote in brackets. “There has to be peas.”

And, of course, pumpkin and apple pie.

Originally from England (hence the joke about peas, a popular food among Brits), Pearce has been at the University of Iowa in varying capacities since 1984. She has four children, including a 26-year-old son, who will not be present for Thanksgiving dinner this year, after testing positive for covid-19.

“Quite a lot of my students have been sick with covid, and three of my students have lost loved ones,” Pearce said. “It’s been such a gloomy time. Everybody is so raw right now, so even this little gesture has been interpreted as magnificent.”

“Lots of students wrote back and said they were covered for Thanksgiving, but that it really meant so much to know that I cared. Even if students didn’t sign up for food, I think it made them feel good,” Pearce continued. “It was such a little thing to do, and that is what is blowing me away.”

While only a handful of students have taken her up on the offer so far, dozens of emails flooded Pearce’s inbox with heartfelt notes of gratitude, and countless offers (including from strangers on social media) to donate money for groceries or help cook the food — which she has politely declined.

Kembrew McLeod, the communication studies department chair at the University of Iowa, also asked to donate.

“Liz is an unassuming, soft-spoken, sweet person, who is incredibly smart and just a wonderful teacher,” said McLeod, who has known Pearce since he came to the university in 2000. “This is just an authentic expression of who she is as a person.”

“It’s really hard to be a student right now. I think any gesture that is either out of the ordinary or above and beyond is deeply appreciated,” McLeod added.

Not only did students and strangers show gratitude for the gesture, but parents reached out to give thanks, too.

“I’ve had messages from parents of students saying ‘Thank you. It’s nice to know there are people who care,’ ” said Pearce.

Since Pearce’s 15-year-old daughter is vegan, she is cooking up a full vegan menu with all the Thanksgiving fixings.

Mengmeng Liu, a graduate student in the program, is delighted.

“As a vegan, I usually don’t get the privilege to have real Thanksgiving food,” Liu, 26, said, adding that she usually joins her partner’s family in Washington for the holidays, but this year, they will be enjoying Pearce’s home-cooked meal instead.

Liu wanted to do something meaningful to show her gratitude for Pearce’s kindness, so she donated money to symbolically adopt a rescued turkey in honor of her professor’s daughter.

“My daughter was thrilled,” Pearce said. “It was really meaningful to her.”

Pearce’s children are especially excited about cooking for students this Thanksgiving, she said. In fact, her 10-year-old son asked to make it an annual tradition.

The majority of classes at the university are now being offered online, making it easier for many students to isolate in the weeks before Thanksgiving to safely venture home, Pearce noted.

Given the outpouring of support, Pearce decided to pass along the same email to the whole undergraduate class of more than 600 people. She wants to ensure that anyone staying behind in Iowa City is well taken care of.

“I don’t want any one student to feel like they are alone,” said Pearce.

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