UI students, community members to spend time volunteering over holiday

From selling pancakes for poverty to promoting hunger and homelessness awareness, many University and community groups are trying to do their part as the holiday season begins. Thanksgiving has been the focus of several volunteer projects in the area, despite the difficulties of recruiting volunteers.

“Everyone at the beginning of the semester wants to volunteer, but as the semester goes on and everyone gets busy, they don’t know what kind of time they have,” said Alefiyah Master, director of Hunger and Homelessness and a senior in ACES.

“People want to volunteer during the holidays, but they have the wrong impression that food banks and pantries and shelters need more help during the holidays. People who are hungry during the holidays are hungry all the time.”

The University’s Office of Volunteer Programs (OVP) ran its second annual Thanksgiving Basket Drive through Nov. 18. The drive reached out to all Registered Student Organizations (RSOs), University Housing and Greek organizations. It asked the groups to gather the food components of a Thanksgiving meal into a laundry basket and to bring it to the OVP office.

“One of the biggest things that OVP does is to help students find volunteer opportunities that fit with their schedules, with their interests,” said Brittany Koteles, junior in LAS. “We exist to make it easy to volunteer. In addition to that, we do some campuswide service projects and one of them is this Thanksgiving Basket Drive.”

On Wednesday and Thursday, community groups picked up the baskets to deliver them to families in the area. Five organizations worked with OVP to distribute the baskets for Thanksgiving: Salt and Light Ministry, Crisis Nursery, the Pavilion Foundation, the Champaign Mental Health Center and a community church.

“We have the resources to get all the stuff together, but we don’t have the contact with families that they (the groups) do,” Koteles said. “I really like that we’re partnering with organizations in the community and extending service beyond the campus.”

About 60 baskets were collected through the drive. OVP is also running a toy drive through Dec. 9.

RSOs are working to help the community as well.

Volunteer Illini Projects donated 10 baskets to the OVP Thanksgiving Basket Drive. The group also promoted hunger awareness.

“This week is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, so we had other things going on like a hunger display on the Quad,” Master said.

The group is also volunteering for Urbana High School’s 38th Annual Thanksgiving Meal, which provides meals for the community.

The meal takes place on Thanksgiving, Nov. 26, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the High School Commons, 1002 S. Race St., in Urbana. In previous years, the event has typically drawn around 300 members of the community, said Mark Schultz, an Urbana school district spokesperson.

“This is an opportunity for many of the foreign students in the area to come and participate in a Thanksgiving meal,” Schultz said. “A lot of times the foreign students don’t have the opportunity to return to their family for the holidays, so it’s a chance a time for them to come to Urbana High School to enjoy the day.”