It's a bittersweet time of year for international students at Tennessee Wesleyan University (TWU) in Athens, Tennessee. Many of them haven't been to their home countries in months and for some it's been more than a year.
The pandemic is putting a strain on most of us, but the Athens community wanted to make sure these students felt loved and were well fed for the holidays.
On Tuesday, a local church provided meals for the students stuck on campus. They even had some gift bags and a visit from Santa Claus himself.
NewsChannel 9 talked to TWU's clergy and chaplain Rev. Skip White. He says they ran into this situation over the summer where some of the students could not return home. Local churches, community members, and businesses stepped up to fill the gap for the students. Now, they're doing it again for the holiday season.
Rev. White said, "I think this is the most profound way these students are learning how to take care of each other, how to take care of someone who you don't even know. But we can reach out in a small way and bring food just to help them navigate these difficult times."
We also talked to two international students about staying in Tennessee for Christmas.
Katie Phillips is from London, England and plays on TWU's soccer team.
"Knowing that you've got the community supporting you is really special," Phillips said. "I could go out on the street and I could see people that have been here seven meals to me and they'll remember my face and they'll want to have a conversation with me. And I feel like that's really special."
Chloe Rootes is from Australia and is also on the TWU soccer team. She says not only is it nice to have a family here in Tennessee, it's nice for her parents to know that too.
"I think if we're being honest, I think it's our families back home who are most thankful knowing that there are adults and community members here in Athens that have taken care of their babies," said Rootes.
Rev. White says they'll make sure the students are well fed during the winter holidays until school is back in session in the spring.