A professor at University of Iowa is doing something a little different this Thanksgiving: She and three of her children will prepare and deliver home-cooked meals to students stuck at school because of the pandemic.
Elizabeth Pearce, who goes by Liz, is a professor in the communications department and has been spending the year, like most teachers around the country, teaching her students virtually. Despite never having met most of them in person, she wanted to help those who are going to be stuck on campus because of travel restrictions or quarantining.
On Nov. 19, Pearce wrote an email to her class offering them a home-cooked meal on Thanksgiving, should they be unable to be with family. In it, she urged students to take her up on the offer, and that she and her children would be happy to make the food while wearing masks and deliver the hot food Thursday to people's homes and dorms to limit physical contact.
One student, Leah Blask, was so moved by Pearce's kindness, she shared the email on Twitter that same day.
"My professor is absolutely too pure for this world," she tweeted with a screenshot of the email.
By Monday, the tweet had nearly 900,000 likes and thousands of appreciative comments. With COVID-19 taking holiday stress to a whole new level, Blask said she was exhilarated by the overwhelmingly positive response.
"I was actually not surprised, but like, so excited to see that I haven't gotten a single negative reaction yet about it," Blask told NBC's Stay Tuned.
But for Pearce, who doesn't have Twitter, the offer was never about recognition, just about coming together to help those who might need it.
"I think the students are struggling to be honest, and I think we often hear publicity about students go into the bars and being superspreaders. But I think what we don't hear is the struggles are going through," Pearce told Stay Tuned.
"You know, they're managing and they're trying to do coursework while they're sick," she continued. "They're not able to see their family when they feel vulnerable. Many of them have lost their part time jobs and feel a sense of financial insecurity. And some of their families have hardships, too. So I think they're juggling lots of difficult fights right now. And just in talking with the students, I just felt like maybe they needed a bit of pick-me-up."
Pearce was moved when Blask sent her the tweet, reading through thousands of comments, many from people who were brought to tears by the act of kindness.
"It made me realize maybe how vulnerable we are as a nation right now with social distancing. We don't have that proximity. And I think we've gone through kind of a divisive presidential campaign. And maybe it seems like we've forgotten how to be kind to each other," Pearce said. "And I think maybe that's why it spread so quickly, because we're just not used to that human connection anymore."
Pearce understood first-hand what it's like to be separated from family on the holidays, as her oldest son is quarantining with COVID-19 in Davenport, Iowa, unable to make Thanksgiving.
"He's doing well. He didn't have it too badly, he's just been super tired, and I think he's felt maybe a little lonely, too," she said. "And so it really made me aware of how lonely my students may feel. So it was it was good in that respect because I was able to speak quite intimately with somebody who's experienced it."
When she asked her other three children if they'd mind pitching in, they too loved the idea of sending students stuck at school some home-cooked food. Her daughter, who is a vegetarian, even made a vegan menu for Pearce's many vegetarian students.
As of Monday, Pearce had only received three interested replies, two of whom took her up on the vegan offer. Since she got the extra food, she's going to expand the offer to the entire communications department, which has about 600 students.
Strangers who felt inspired by the professor's email asked Blask if they could donate to help fund Pearce's generous endeavor. But Pearce has declined any money.
"It's nice that my idea was appreciated," she told Stay Tuned. "But … I hope if something comes out of this, maybe it will make other people think and reach out, because sometimes I think we're a little shy to reach out and maybe we need more people to reach out more often."