Volunteers from around Ithaca gathered to bring awareness to social issues like AIDS, hunger and malnutrition in an effort to give back to their communities.
Service Saturdays kicked off on Sept. 13 with 100 students registered for the annual volunteer program organized by the Office of Student Engagement and Multicultural Affairs.
The volunteer-based event facilitates the coordination of students donating their time to local charities and organizations once a month in the Ithaca community.
Don Austin, OSEMA assistant director of community service and leadership development, said 100 students registered for the event on Sept. 13 and that he hopes the enthusiasm continues for the rest of the year.
“There’s a lot of energy still going around. A lot of people want to get out and know the area and get involved,” Austin said.
Austin said the Service Saturdays program gives students the opportunity to participate in volunteer work and become more involved in the Ithaca community.
“We truly try to make service an opportunity for students to get to learn the community, get to figure out how they might like to volunteer even more deeply as Ithaca College students,” Austin said. “It’s for them to see that service is a very social thing.”
Through this month’s Service Saturdays, students were given the opportunity to volunteer at a choice of three events throughout Ithaca: the annual AIDS Ride for Life at Cass Park, Feed My Starving Children Mobile Pack event at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Burleigh Drive and the Salvation Army on Albany Street.
Cora Yao, Tompkins’ Area Congregations Together chairperson, said students volunteering at the Feed My Starving Children Mobile Pack event helped to pack food parcels for malnourished children in nearly 70 developing countries.
“We pack boxes of a special formula of soy, rice, dried vegetables and vitamins, and that means one meal a day gives them all the nutrients they need,” Yao said.
Up to 120 volunteers, from both the college and from the community, worked at the eight packing stations during each of the 15 sessions with the goal of getting as much packing done as possible. Yao said participants showed excitement while they worked in teams to pack the food parcels.
“They very enthusiastically poured the ingredients into the container bag, and they sang cheers when they finished a box that can feed 216 children,” Yao said.
Some students volunteered their time at the Salvation Army Soup Kitchen, sharing the hot lunch they helped prepare for the local community.
After serving the meals, the volunteers were able to eat and speak with those who arrived at the Salvation Army for their dinner before helping the facilitator clean.
Senior Matt Deveau has been participating in Service Saturdays since his freshman year and said he takes great satisfaction from giving back to the community.
“I heard about Service Saturdays when I did the Jumpstart program as a freshman, and I’ve been doing them ever since because I just love doing service work,” Deveau said.
Deveau had previously volunteered at the Salvation Army through Service Saturday but said he wanted to work there again.
“I haven’t been here in a while, and I liked it the previous two times I had worked here, so I thought it was a great idea to come back,” Deveau said.
Austin said 15 to 20 percent of the average 400 students who volunteer throughout the year return to continue with their service.
“We have sometimes as many 50 to 60 students come back and volunteer repeatedly in the program,” Austin said.
It’s not just the students who benefit from Service Saturdays. Austin said the community really appreciates the hard work the students do throughout the events.
“They’re just very pleased with how hardworking and engaged Ithaca College students are. I’m just very pleased at how hard students work and how much of themselves they give to the community,” Austin said.
Karen Sargent, Salvation Army facilities manager, said she appreciates the support given by the students on Service Saturdays.
“We love having college kids back, it’s very helpful to have them as volunteers,” Sargent said.
Yao said having students volunteer at the Feed My Starving Children mobile drive has created a greater sense of community for everyone.
“We’re just really thankful that the Ithaca College students have come because it breaks that divide between the town and the college, and it’s something that I think is a feel-good activity for both youth and adults,” Yao said.
Austin said the positive response about Service Saturdays from participating charities and organizations comes as no surprise.
“To me, it’s no mystery why our partners enjoy working with the program, because the program is meant to help an organization complete or realize their mission and to help give them extra support for their events,” Austin said.
The next Service Saturdays event will be held on Oct. 4. For more details, visit the OSEMA Web page at www.ithaca.edu/sacl/osema/.