Volunteers for the University Libraries’ Cheesy Nights service project in Newman Library cranked up the grill, flipped grilled cheese, served cookies and fruit, poured hot chocolate, and even gave encouraging hugs to stressed-out students during finals week in December. 

Therese Walters, service project coordinator and wife of University Libraries Dean Tyler Walters, said Cheesy Nights began in 2011 with $100 for cheese, butter, bread, and a small griddle. During fall 2019 finals week, volunteers from across the Virginia Tech community, the region, and beyond served close to 4,000 sandwiches. 

“In the last nine years, this project has grown and encouraged thousands of students to keep studying and working hard during finals week,” said Tyler Walters. “This project models the service-oriented land-grant mission of Virginia Tech for our students. We know they will remember this and pay it forward when they can.”

“We finished our 17th semester of finals with the help and donations of 103 volunteers, including parents, alumni, the Virginia Tech Women’s Club, university employees, and community members kicking in cash, baked goods, and unbelievable hours before, during, and after the five nights before finals,” said Therese Walters. “I quit counting the total number served since 2011 when we hit the 20,000 mark several years ago.”

Elania White, a mom of two Hokies, traveled from her home in Wytheville to help prepare and serve sandwiches and snacks to students studying in Newman Library.  She learned of the project through Facebook and knew she had to participate.

“We need to do this,” said White. “A lot of kids don’t have anyone here to help. Some don’t have any meal plan money left and this is a hot meal for them. An encouraging word and knowing someone cares makes all the difference for students.”

Students study business law while eating grilled cheese in the library.
Students get their grilled cheese brainfood to stay focused on studying during finals week. Photo by Trevor Finney for Virginia Tech.

Lisa Graves came to Blacksburg to pick up her son William, a mechanical engineering major whose last exam was on the last day of final exams. “We live seven hours away, so I don’t get an opportunity to help out very often. We came here early to do this. We’re a third-generation Hokie family and we like to stay involved.”

Hokie parents make friends during Cheesy Nights and stay connected over the years. Some even plan which days they will serve in order to see their Hokie parent friends. 

“Parents are super involved with kids while they are in grade school and high school. Their kids come to college and parents want to do something to help,” said Walters. “How can you not do it?”

This year, Virginia Tech Police Department officers helped grill and serve sandwiches. Officer Micah Pasquarell said it’s all about supporting students.

“It’s fun to do this and it’s so rewarding,” said Pasquarell. “Students need to know that there are people cheering for them and rooting them on to get them past the finish line. It’s fun to be a part of that.”

Virginia Tech Police Officer Nigel Lee volunteered three nights to cook sandwiches. “We did 800 sandwiches the first night,” said Lee. “I could smell them all night - smell the butter on my clothes. It’s fun because the kids are so appreciative.”

Gavin Gochnour, a second-year finance major, gave testimony to the stress-relieving power of grilled cheese. 

“I have a big day tomorrow and it’s going to be rough,” said Gochnour. “I was stressed. I got my food and felt better. I think it’s cool to see the community come together to encourage me while I study. Thank you to all the volunteers who helped me calm down. Everyone was extremely welcoming and kind.”

Cheesy Nights is made possible through individual private donations to the University Libraries Excellence Annual Fund. This year, it is also made possible, in part, through the generosity of Donald W. Caudill and the Alfred and Shirley Wampler Caudill Special Events Fund. This fund was created by a gift from Caudill in honor of his parents and in appreciation for the sacrifices they made to support his education.

“So many donations of time, talent, and money along with a caring library make this service project a blast to do,” said Therese Walters. “All involved have truly made a difference for our students. Thank you!”