With an aim to create community partnership and inter-disciplinary collaboration, the Office of Civic Engagement at Eldridge Hall offers students a unique opportunity to engage in service initiatives. With such things as The Campus Kitchens Project and Backpacks for Kids, students can participate in initiatives that address community needs and work on issues that directly impact local citizens of Pike County.
According to Tiffany Taylor, a senior biomedical sciences major from Knoxville, Tennessee, who is in charge of food initiatives, the food recovery program began in 2014 and has focused on reducing hunger and poverty in the Pike County area. In a joint partnership with Sodexo, The Campus Kitchens Project works to capture and reclaim unused, excess food from the campus dining hall and direct meals to those in need in the local community. On the other hand, Backpacks for Kids, in conjunction with the Freshman Forum, works in preparing backpacks for local students filled with supplemental foods.
“Due to these programs, we are able to deliver over a hundred meals to Headstart every week,” Taylor said. “All of these programs are operated by a team made up of student workers and student volunteers.
“Due to their hard work, we are able to provide meals to multiple community members and take a step towards reducing food waste in Pike County.”
In 2018, the Office of Civic Engagement totaled approximately 450 volunteer hours, 4,000 meals donated and almost 5,000 pounds of food recovered.
“In my freshman year, I was trying to get involved in programs and organizations that focused on community service, and the Office of Civic Engagement had what I was looking for,” said Utsav Phunyal, a senior computer science major and student worker with the Office of Civic Engagement, from Dolakha, Nepal. “I started volunteering with them because of the opportunity to make a positive impact in lives of people of this community that I was going to be part of for at least 4 years.”
According to Phunyal, depending on the initiative one is involved with, the tasks entailed are different. For meal prep, volunteers put the unused food that has not been put out for students from the dining hall into the meal container. These meal containers are typically stored in a large freezer, and on the day of delivery, they are taken out, labeled and delivered to Headstart or Senior Nutrition Center.
For Beulah Bontah, a graduate public administration major and a volunteer from Guntur, India, the initiative was a golden opportunity where she not only got to pursue her calling to serve the community, but also do so in an issue that she holds dear to her heart. To top it off, for Bontah, working with the Office of Civic Engagement has helped her explore her academic interest of studying non-profit organizations’ structures with a hands-on experience.
“As I’m doing my master’s in public administration concentrating in Nonprofit Organizations (NPO), I just wanted to know how NPO in the U.S. works, and one of my classmates told me about Civic Engagement, which holds the NPO and all,” Bontah said. “I’ve gained knowledge about the nonprofit organization’s challenge and its administrative activities while working on something that I hold so close to my heart.
“I love to do the (Campus Kitchen’s) meal prep event because it packs the leftover food from Trojan Dining Center, being a person who respects food and have seen food scarcity in my life, so I just connected to it.”
The Office of Civic Engagement and its various initiatives provide students with an opportunity to not only serve but also rack up community service hours that they might need for different purposes. This may especially be of interest to independent students or individuals that are looking to gain volunteering hours without being associated with an organization or for individuals just looking to give back to the community.
Phunyal and Bontha both credit their involvement with different social initiatives to have fostered leadership and communication skills while expanding their network while at college.
“I am an international student with weak English background, but being involved with this helped improve my communication skills tremendously,” Phunyal said. “I have made good friends through this.
“And, from this semester, I have started working at the Office of Civic Engagement, which has given me more opportunity to lead and take part in different initiatives that I am passionate about.”
“It literally brings a smile on my face thinking about the people I am helping and motivates me when I am distressed,” Bontha said.
In addition to the volunteering, the Office of Civic Engagement also offers a Civic Scholars program, which is a leadership team comprised of students that work in managerial roles with the initiatives. Students interested in being involved with Office of Civic Engagement can get more information about it at 122 Eldridge Hall.