Virginia Western Community College showed up to serve on Friday, January 13, 2023. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service (MLK Day) is the only federal holiday that is also designated by Congress as a national day of service. In that spirit, Virginia Western volunteers:
- processed 1,200 pounds’ worth of food for our neighbors who have food insecurity
- sent 57 of notes of gratitude to active-duty military
- sent 3 of notes of encouragement to residents of long-term care facilities
- fed 26 family members who are away from home while their child is hospitalized
- donated 25 pints of life-saving blood to ensure our local hospitals can meet the needs of their patients
- volunteered 24 hours to help fund safe, affordable Habitat for Humanity homes
“Virginia Western is the community’s college and the Day of Service provides the College an opportunity to give back and support our community,” said the College’s Chief Diversity Officer Jolene D. Hamm, who is Associate Vice President, Office of Institutional Effectiveness.
In collaboration with the School of Career and Corporate Training, the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Team coordinated the Day of Service event.
Faculty, staff and students volunteering at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore on Melrose Avenue in Roanoke handled some of the everyday tasks of the retail outlet, such as helping clean, move and prepare stock, as well as assisting customers. The organization’s goal is “building strength, stability & self-reliance through shelter.” The ReStore sells new and used furniture, home goods and building supplies, and the proceeds go to help fund the building of Habitat homes.
A few miles away in Salem, morning and afternoon shifts of Virginia Western volunteers participated in USDA Box Kitting at Feeding Southwest Virginia. James Andrews, a 19-year employee of the organization, leads and trains volunteers. “We’re in this together,” he exhorted the volunteer crew – it’s not only about food. “It’s about taking care of people’s lives.”
He emphasized that volunteers should have a good time. It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality of work, and quality time with one another, he told them. He led volunteers in the pre-sort area, where they cleaned donated boxes, cans, bottles and other items, and sorted the items by type, weeding out damaged goods.
“The impact is just unbelievable,” said Director of Volunteer Services Randy Holden. For volunteers, wiping a can might seem insignificant, he said, but what they are really doing is giving dignity to the recipients, who will receive quality merchandise. According to Feeding Southwest Virginia’s Fast Facts for fiscal year 2021-2022, one in eight people are food insecure, and one in six children are food insecure. The organization serves an average of 93, 779 neighbors monthly.
To help meet the needs of those neighbors, Virginia Western volunteers processed 1,200 pounds’ worth of food between morning and afternoon shifts.
At the Ronald McDonald House on Jefferson Street in Roanoke, crews worked through the afternoon to support the organization. Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southwest Virginia provides a home for families while their child is in the hospital. The house cares for an average of 700 families per year, offering food, shelter and a support system.
Melanie Morris-Carr, community relations and special events coordinator, said there were about 26 guests staying at the house that day. The house serves a dinner for guests, and the organization also provides snacks at the Ronald McDonald Family Room at Carilion Children’s Hospital.
Volunteers prepared and served dinner, and also sorted through donated can tabs with magnets to separate aluminum from other metals.
Those working with the tabs were Michele Richardson, a student in medical coding; Kitty Walls, from the TRiO Office; and Christine Widener, a student in the human services program.
Kitty Walls had a personal reason why she chose this volunteer site. She has a young cousin with neuroblastoma, whose family is being helped by a Ronald McDonald House in New York City. As soon as Walls saw the house here on the list of volunteer opportunities, “I said, ‘Oh, that’s what I want to do.'”
Ray Wickersty, program advisor for social science and public services, has cooked at the house before with the Psychology Club. He was mixing up more than 10 pounds of meatloaf, enough to use for that night’s dinner and to freeze some for another night. The menu also included scalloped potatoes, roasted broccoli with garlic, and garlic butter and baguettes.
On campus, the Health Professions Multipurpose Room saw a steady stream of 25 donors, including some who had volunteered off campus during the day, at a blood drive for the American Red Cross. Another way to support the Day of Service without leaving campus came through the note-writing campaign, which resulted in 60 cards for active duty members of the military and residents of long-term care facilities.
As noted on the web page for the initiative, Martin Luther King Jr. was deeply committed to serving others and fostering a more just and inclusive society. Every year, thousands of people across the United States come together to honor Dr. King through service projects and commemorative events. Virginia Western Community College is honored to celebrate his work and teachings by making MLK Day a “day on” instead of simply a day off.
“Virginia Western is here to serve the community, and the MLK Jr. Day of Service is a great opportunity to carry that mission off campus and into the community,” Hamm said. “Our students are the community, and the Day of Service is one way to demonstrate that we are here to support them in every way possible.”
For the 89 Virginia Western volunteers who contributed 534 hours of service, the 2023 MLK Day of Service was a way to answer King’s call to action:
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”