Being new to a college and a city, especially during COVID-19, can be overwhelming. In Kirksville, one way the city helps connect students to the community is through the Downtown Student Welcome.
At the Downtown Student Welcome, took place Sept. 12, local businesses and organizations set up tables, with many handing out flyers or various free giveaways for students. Some businesses or organizations had games for students to play or drawings students could enter. Kraft Heinz, a first-time participant, provided hot dogs. Hy-Vee managers grilled the hot dogs and provided hot dog buns and water, while Community Opportunities and Hightower Wholesale provided chips. Local restaurant Kababesh served free food to students as well.
Last year, the event was canceled due to the pandemic. Though it was able to be held this year, several factors related to COVID-19 affected the attendance at the event.
Senior Jennifer Pham said the event was smaller because of COVID-19 and more spread out because of the location change. The Downtown Student Welcome is usually on the Square, but because of the courthouse construction, it was moved to the Armory. Typically the Square is packed with students during the event, Pham said, but there were fewer people this year.
Sandra Williams, executive director of the Kirksville Area Chamber of Commerce, also said there were fewer businesses and students than usual. There were 60 businesses and organizations in 2019, Williams said, but this year there were 30.
Many businesses didn’t have the staff to send people to the Downtown Student Welcome, Assistant City Manager Ashley Young said. However, he said the event was a success, considering the circumstances of the pandemic.
“Even if the turnout is lower than usual, just having a venue again for local businesses and organizations to connect new residents in the community is a great thing, no matter what the turnout is,” Young said.
Williams, who has been attending the Downtown Student Welcome since 2007 and helping plan it since 2009, said the event has traditionally been on Sunday nights, so they can provide food for students when the dining halls are closed. Though the dining halls are now open on Sunday nights, the time still works out for both students and businesses.
Sophomore Jessie Coleman said the Armory was a great location to have the event and that it was nice that they provided food since most people don’t want to cook on Sundays. She wasn’t aware of many of the businesses and organizations present at the event.
Williams said the Downtown Student Welcome is a great chance to help students make meaningful connections, which is important because they will be living in Kirksville for several years. These connections could introduce a student to a future employer or organization to volunteer for.
William Robb, executive director of Take Root, participated in the Downtown Student Welcome to help make students aware of the cafe and the volunteer opportunities. At the Take Root tent, Robb and several others were handing out free cookies to students. Though Take Root’s physical location closed several months ago, the business still exists in various forms in Kirksville, such as community dinners and the farmer’s market. Robb said he hadn’t been to the Downtown Student Welcome in Kirksville before so he wasn’t sure what to expect, but that the event was going well so far.
Young said he has been attending the event on behalf of the city or previous companies he worked for since 2007. He said the City of Kirksville is proud to participate in the event and is excited that students choose Kirksville to be their home. The City wants to be a part of the event to welcome students into the community.
“[We hope students get out of it] increased awareness and familiarity with our local businesses,” Young said.
President Sue Thomas also attended the event and said it was nice that the event could be spread out this year. She hoped students would find out that there is a lot more available in Kirksville than they might think.
The event is also a good chance to get connected for sophomores who couldn’t attend the event the previous year since it was canceled or get very involved in the community due to the pandemic, according to Thomas.
“Sometimes people think a small rural town, there’s not much,” Thomas said. “This gives them a chance to see all the things available in Kirksville, and I think it’s always good when Kirksville people get to meet Truman students. They get to see how bright and talented our students are, and how excited they are and how willing they are to give back to the community…”