The Virginia Western community fanned out on Friday, Jan. 12, for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, the second year this event has been held on the Friday before the federal commemorative day. A record number of faculty, staff and students contributed to three projects:
- 110 people donated to Suitcases with Hope for children in foster care;
- 22 people gave their time to Feeding Southwest Virginia food bank, processing about 1,000 pounds of food and preparing meals; and
- 32 people donated blood to the American Red Cross.
The blood drive was overseen by Melody Clark, administrative assistant for Health Professions. The American Red Cross is in great need of blood donations in our region, so these donations will help meet that shortage.
Virginia Western volunteers at Feeding Southwest Virginia’s large facility in Salem worked in the Quality Assurance area. They spent morning and afternoon shifts cleaning, inspecting and sorting donated goods, and even learned how to use a pallet jack. Food donations they processed on Friday reached homes in the Roanoke area the following Monday and Tuesday. Other volunteers prepared meals at Feeding Southwest Virginia’s Children’s Kitchen at the Solutions Center.
Suitcases with Hope reaches out to children in the community who are in foster care. The Rev. Sean Burch, a pastor with Spirit of Unity Baptist Church in Roanoke County, began a suitcase drive through the church about three years ago based on his own experiences with foster care. “When I found out that they still had children that didn’t have suitcases, or were still carrying their belongings in trash bags, that’s not a great way to carry around belongings. So part of my motivation was to restore dignity, but also give them some hope with other items that we can put inside the suitcases, whether it’s an encouraging letter, some hygiene products, and so forth.”
Virginia Western volunteers prepared 54 suitcases for this drive, including letters designed for different age groups, hygiene items, blankets and even teddy bears. “I’m so grateful for the work they did, a phenomenal job,” Burch said.
On Friday, Jan. 19, a crew from Virginia Western Facilities Management Services transported the suitcases via box truck to Embrace Treatment Foster Care’s office in Roanoke County. Rachel Preston, Foster Parent Recruiter with Embrace, had a previous connection with Burch, who was once her supervisor at Roanoke City Public Schools, and he reached out on behalf of Suitcases with Hope. “We’re so grateful to be on the receiving end of your efforts,” Preston said about this suitcase drive.
“I really see Suitcases with Hope as a gateway to the other critical issues and the other needs that foster care staff need help with,” Burch said, who seeks to generate conversations through the outreach.
Preston pointed to examples. “My position is a recruiter for foster parents, and our area, there’s a huge drought, and we need foster parents. Roanoke city actually has the highest number of children in foster care in the state of Virginia,” she said. Department of Social Service workers “are spending the night at their offices with kids, and they don’t have homes.” She said their agency, along with others, are working “to train and certify foster parents so we can get some homes ready for the children.”
Virginia Western serves foster youth through the Great Expectations program, and Great Expectations Student Success Coach J.W. Taylor was on hand to help deliver suitcases to Embrace. The Great Expectations Program helps students with tuition, financial assistance and other socio-emotional supports.
Virginia Western Associate Vice President Jolene Hamm, of the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, is also the College’s chief diversity officer. “Doing the Martin Luther King Day of Service allows everyone to have the opportunity to have that day, to take that time to give back to our community,” Hamm said during the suitcase drive delivery. “Because our community gives a lot back to Virginia Western.”