CEDAR FALLS — The spirit of service was evident Monday at the University of Northern Iowa’s Maucker Union.
Tables lined with volunteers in the union’s ballroom assembled thousands of bags filled with canned and packaged food destined for the backpacks of needy students across 16 counties.
It was all part of the third annual Martin Luther King Day of Service, a partnership between UNI’s service and leadership council, the food bank and the Volunteer Center of the Cedar Valley. The event drew UNI students and others from across the community.
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“We probably have 200 in this room and probably about 200 in Lang Hall,” said Jessica Haring, volunteer services manager for the Northeast Iowa Food Bank. The others were hearing a presentation on Martin Luther King Jr., poverty and the food bank. Later, the groups would switch so they could work on filling the bags too.
“Our goal is to pack 15,000 bags,” she noted, supplying weekend breakfasts, lunches and a snack for identified students from 143 schools. “That equates to about 100 pallets.” Each pallet has 24 boxes containing the packed bags.
The packages with items such as soup, macaroni and cheese, cereal and juice will be distributed to students over the course of a month. Haring said it was nice to see “people are willing to push through that cold and wind” to attend the event.
Other King Day service events were held throughout the area. Among those were Columbus Catholic High School in Waterloo, Wartburg College in Waverly and the volunteer center through the Cedar Falls Public Library.
The Waterloo Center for the Arts held King Day of Service workshops for youths on leadership and personal responsibility. Most involved the arts as a learning tool.
“I was a little bit scared because of the weather,” said Cherie Kabba, one of the organizers. But she was happy to see more than 60 young people turn out for the seven workshops along with a number of unexpected volunteers.
Children were among the volunteers at UNI. Sophie Cooley, a fourth-grader at Cedar Heights Elementary School, didn’t mind missing out on a day at home to participate in the volunteer activity.
“My friend’s mom brought me,” she said. “It’s kind of fun.” She knows about King’s “I have a dream” speech and has done similar volunteer activities at the food bank.
Many other volunteers were UNI students.
“I’m a future educator myself,” said sophomore Jessica Sholes. Volunteering “for the kids” appealed to the first-time participant. “There’s no better way to give back.”
For Sophomore Shannon Jones, the inspiration for participating came from King, a civil rights leader who was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn., 50 years ago this April.
She wanted to use the day to give back “because Martin Luther King was a wonderful leader and he made a huge impact on America.”
Junior Josh Mostaert said King’s leadership is an important focus of the day that he was striving to emulate.
“Dr. King was one of the ultimate leaders,” said Moestaert. “He organized a bunch of people that were disinfranchised from the system.
“Our fraternity, Pi Kappa Alpha, we’re really big on community services. This is one way we can come together and do something good for the community — and really fun. We’re having a great time here.”
Abby Martin, an Americorp worker in South Tama County Community Schools who graduated from UNI in December, was back on campus for the event. “It brings the community together,” she said.
At the Center for the Arts, a showcase was staged allowing students to perform something they worked on during the day. People sang, performed spoken word poetry and recited what they learned in the workshops.
“We wrote a poem about our dream,” said Rebekah Luloff, a fifth-grader at Dr. Walter Cunningham School for Excellence. “It was fun.”
“It was fun and learning about other people at the same time,” said Sanai Scott, a fourth-grader at Kittrell Elementary School.